One little-noticed aspect of the plea deal and cooperation agreement between Paul Manafort and Robert Mueller is that they are structured so that a presidential pardon by Donald Trump will do him no good.
There has been much speculation that Trump would pardon anyone found guilty (or pleading guilty) as part of the Mueller probe.
But what’s missing from that discussion is the answer to the question: What’s in it for Trump?
A pardon would be a great thing for persons guilty of crimes but it could be a political disaster for the president.
There are two main factors that would lessen the impact of a Trump pardon for Manafort:
The first factor is that Manafort has already talked to Mueller and his team. A rationale for a pardon would be to reward Manafort for not “flipping” but it’s too late for that.
Manafort’s lead lawyer said Friday his client has already cooperated with Mueller’s team. And, as we reported yesterday:
“Manafort has certainly already “delivered the goods” to the special counsel. He said that, based on his experience of being in the same situation many times, the prosecutors always demand to see the incriminating evidence being offered by the defendant BEFORE a plea agreement is entered into.”
The big questions that Mueller has for Manafort — such as finding out more about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians attended by Manafort with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner — have likely already been asked and answered. Manafort’s testimony has already been locked in by Mueller so a pardon at this point wouldn’t prevent him from obtaining any information.
The second factor is that Manafort has already admitted guilt IN WRITING on all of the charges he faced.
Each of those criminal admissions have given state prosecutors the ability to charge Manafort immediately for the same crimes, but under state law. So a Trump pardon wouldn’t even help, since he can pardon only federal crimes.
Former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman had this to say:
“By admitting to all of the facts in both indictments, the conviction is pardon proof in the sense that if Trump ever pardoned Manafort, a state attorney general could take Manafort’s admissions in the plea and use them to indict Manafort for state charges.”
In addition, on Friday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, warned Trump that if he pardons Manafort, the president will be obstructing justice.
There is much to lose for Donald Trump in pardoning Paul Manafort, and little to gain. The genius of Robert Mueller has shown through once again. The steps he took in structuring the Manafort deal make it virtually certain that Donald Trump will conclude that a Manafort pardon is not in his best interest. And Donald Trump is not known for doing things that help other people instead of himself.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.