NEW YORK — The end of the special counsel’s investigation sparked fresh speculation that President Donald Trump might pardon some of those charged in the probe. It’s also spawned a don’t-go-there chorus from some of Trump’s closest advisers and GOP allies.
They’re warning that pardons could ignite a political firestorm that overshadows what Trump sees as a moment of triumph.
Trump mused about granting pardons at times during special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation. But according to his lawyers, the president has not been in active talks about using his pardon powers to help advisers who have pleaded guilty or been convicted, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
“The president is not going to consider pardons. He’s not gonna give any pardons,” said Rudy Giuliani, the president’s outside attorney. “If it ever happens, it has to happen in the future, but nobody has any promise of it, nobody should assume it. Of course, he has the power to do it, but I have no reason to believe he’s going to use it.”
Mueller’s probe ended last week. According to a four-page summary issued by Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, Mueller found no evidence Trump’s campaign “conspired or co-ordinated” with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election. But Mueller reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein then concluded there wasn’t sufficient evidence to establish that the president had obstructed justice.
Trump has falsely claimed that Mueller “completely exonerated” him, a rallying cry echoed by many on the right and taken up by some conservatives who are now calling for Trump to issue pardons.
“President Trump should pardon General Mike Flynn. General Mike Flynn was entrapped by federal agents that were seeking revenge against Trump,” tweeted Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative group Turning Point USA, who said Flynn faces $5 million in legal fees.
George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, this week became the first to formally request a presidential pardon. He served a 14-day prison sentence last year after pleading guilty to making false statements to federal prosecutors about his communications with a professor who claimed that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
“My lawyers have formally asked for a pardon,” Papadopoulos told Fox News. “If it’s granted, I would be honoured to accept it.”
Tom Fitton, the president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, tweeted this week that a Flynn pardon can’t come “soon enough.” And Jack Posbiec, an online conservative advocate, pushed for clemency for longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, who recently pleaded not guilty to felony charges in Mueller’s investigation.
But there is little appetite among Trump allies for the political mess that pardons could create. White House aides and Republican lawmakers alike have advised the president to steer clear of the idea, particularly as House Democrats continue their investigations and the 2020 campaign has begun.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who spent last weekend with Trump, told reporters on Monday that “if President Trump pardoned anybody in his orbit, it would not play well.”
Other congressional allies and informal Trump advisers, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have counselled against pardoning anyone ensnared in Mueller’s investigation.
Trump has not brought up pardons since the Mueller probe ended, but has privately complained about what he believes is the unfair treatment a number of his former aides have received, according to a White House official not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. The president has expressed sympathy for Manafort, believing his sentence of seven-plus years for a variety of financial crimes was unjust, according to the official.
When asked by reporters at the White House earlier this month if he could consider pardoning Manafort, Trump demurred, saying, “I have not even given it a thought as of this moment.”
“It is not something that’s right now on my mind,” Trump said. In an interview Wednesday on Fox News Channel, Trump said, “I don’t want to talk about pardons now” even as he bashed the investigation.
Trump claimed earlier in the month that his former attorney Michael Cohen, sentenced to three years in prison for violating campaign finance laws, financial crimes and lying to Congress, directly asked him for a pardon. Cohen’s representatives have since disputed that account while acknowledging that he would have been open to the offer last April, when his office and hotel room were first raided by the FBI.
Trump has previously not been shy about exercising his pardon powers, using them in his first two years in office far more than his recent predecessors.
In particular, he rewarded ideological allies, particularly those whom he believed were victims of politically motivated prosecutors. Among those who received pardons were conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who was convicted of a campaign finance violation, and former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, who was convicted of criminal contempt. Each move was widely interpreted as a signal to other potential co-operating witnesses in the Mueller probe that they could also be rewarded with a pardon if they stayed loyal to the president.
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire