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Manafort’s Cooperation Deal Will Make a Trump Pardon Way More Unlikely

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is agreeing to cooperate in Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s probe, and some suggest this may all but eliminate the possibility of a pardon.

“This just went from a category one to a category five gathering storm for the president,” Gene Rossi, attorney with the Carlton Fields law firm and a former federal prosecutor, told Law&Crime in a phone interview. “It is huge.”

President Donald Trump knows that politically, he can’t pardon Manafort now, Rossi said.

“If Trump were to pardon Manafort, I think the House of Representatives would go ballistic,” he said. Rossi suggested that this could lead to Republican politicians supporting impeachment, if not for the pardon, then on some other issue.

Attorney Ken White, writing earlier upon news of Manafort’s expected plea and before news of the cooperation, made a similar suggestion that a pardon would be politically self-destructive. He said that the superseding information was uncharacteristically detailed for this kind of document, and suggested this may have been done to punish any pardon by the president.

“I could be wrong of course,” he wrote. “But it appears that the information is calculated to make it more politically painful to pardon Manafort — to make a preemptive strike on the ‘he was unfairly prosecuted for old stuff that was nothing’ narrative.”

To hear Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani tell it, Manafort’s team has not talked to the president’s people about a possible pardon.

Trump has a history of granting clemency to people with whom he has some sort of personal link, so some wondered if Manafort would be subject to a pardon. Right wing pundit Dinesh D’Souza and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio both benefited from pardons. Others, like Alice Marie Johnson and late heavyweight boxer Jack Jackson, popped up on the president’s radar because of direct entreaties by celebrities.

Even if there were clemency for Manafort, it may not keep him from talking. We also asked Bill Thomas, another attorney and former federal prosecutor, about the effect of a possible pardon, and he said it wouldn’t do anything to stop Manafort from testifying. Quite the opposite.

“It seems to me that a pardon would have little effect on the investigation other than to reduce Manafort’s willingness to cooperate,” he told Law&Crime in an email. “A pardon may take the case out of the federal criminal arena as it relates to a conviction and punishment, it does not however relieve one of the obligation to be a witness if he were subpoenaed to the grand jury or at trial. He would still be obligated to give testimony. This is particularly true since under the scenario you posed — a hypothetical pardon —- he would have no criminal liability (given that he has already been tried and convicted) and likely no ability to meaningfully assert the 5th Amendment.”

The president’s team is dismissing the cooperation deal as a nothingburger.

But Thomas said the effect of this cooperation will likely be important.

“I am sure the Mueller team knows either from direct discussions with Manafort and his attorneys or perhaps just his attorneys giving the Mueller team an overview of the information that he may have to offer,” he wrote. “I feel fairly comfortable in saying that if Mueller’s team sought his cooperation the impact will be significant.” But the specific result of Mueller’s cooperation remains to be seen.

“The impact is will have on this investigation is difficult to say at this point since we don’t know what information he has to offer or who that information may be offered against,” Thomas wrote.

Note: Updated with quotes from Thomas.

[Image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

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