Legal experts are split on whether President Trump will pardon his former campaign chairman-turned-convicted felon Paul Manafort — but they agree that the optimal time for one would be head of ahead of his second trial next month.
For Trump, who raised speculation on Wednesday about a possible pardon with his tweets praising the 69-year-old GOP consultant — it could come down to optics.
“If you’re trying to keep the case out of the public eye, he would have to do it before,” said Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University. “If you wait afterward, it’s not helping [Trump] as much.”
Manafort, who was convicted Tuesday on bank and tax fraud charges, faces another federal trial in Washington, DC next month related to consulting work he did for former Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych.
Criminal defense lawyer Nicholas Gravante Jr. said timing is everything when it comes to a potential Trump pardon.
“If he waits until after the DC trial starts and it is clear the DC trial isn’t going well for Manafort, then it’s going to be perceived that the president is concerned about his own legal situation,” said Gravante.
“If he does it now before the trial starts, I think it looks better both politically and from a public relations standpoint. The optics are better, quite simply.”
Kalt, an expert on presidential pardons, believes Trump’s lawyers are trying to talk him out of granting clemency to Manafort — but that he may go ahead and do it anyway.
“It’s a very well-suited kind of power for Trump because he can just sort of wave his hand and make it happen,” he said. “He doesn’t have to go through Congress, doesn’t have to go through the courts. He can just say it and it happens.”
Kalt, however, said the president could have already acted given his unilateral power to issue a preemptive pardon ahead of Manafort’s trials.
“If he was going to do it, he would’ve done it already,” he said.
A Manafort pardon would be risky for Trump. If granted one, the long-time political operative would lose his right to invoke the Fifth Amendment — leaving him vulnerable if Special Counsel Robert Mueller subpoenas him to testify as part of his Russia probe.
Mueller could, however, grant Manafort immunity ahead of time.
A lawyer for Trump’s ex-personal attorney Michael Cohen, meanwhile, has said Cohen would refuse a presidential pardon, if offered. But it’s unclear whether legally he could do so.
“There’s conflicting Supreme Court case law on that,” said Kalt. “It’s not clear entirely whether he can refuse to accept it. Symbolically, he can say whatever he wants.”
On Wednesday, South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham warned that absolving Manafort would be a “bridge too far.”
“I would not recommend a pardon. You’ve got to earn a pardon. I think it would be seen as a bridge too far,” said Graham, The Hill reported.
He also told CNN that a presidential pardon “would be perceived by many Americans as, you know, interfering with an investigation.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said a Manafort pardon “would very possibly be an obstruction of justice.”
“Certainly it would be an abuse of power,” the Connecticut lawmaker said. “The president should not even be talking about or considering it.”
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand agreed.
“I certainly hope he doesn’t [issue a pardon] because that will create a Constitutional crisis and I hope Congress will hold the president accountable,” said Gillibrand (D-NY).
The White House on Wednesday was ambiguous.
“I am not aware of any conversations regarding that at all,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Published at Wed, 22 Aug 2018 22:48:59 +0000