Speculation is mounting over whether President Trump will grant pardons to his campaign associates charged during Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, now that the report has turned up no evidence of collusion with the Russians during the 2016 presidential election.
The White House, in the past, has said that there had been no discussion of pardons for any of the players indicted in the Mueller investigation. But with the conclusion of Mueller’s investigation, the question is front-and-center once again, especially as one prominent former aide publicly seeks clemency.
Six Trump campaign associates were charged in Mueller’s nearly two-year-long investigation. They include: former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort; former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos; former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn; former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates; former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen; and former Trump adviser Roger Stone.
All of them faced false-statement counts. Manafort was the only Trump associate whose case in the Mueller investigation was largely based on other charges -- including foreign lobbying, and bank and tax fraud. Manafort is set to serve 81 more months in prison.
Trump reportedly said over the weekend that Manafort was treated unfairly; however, a pardon in Manafort's case could be far-fetched given the severity of that case. Speculation has centered more on those Trump aides who were prosecuted largely for false-statement offenses that arose from the investigation itself.
Just this week, Papadopoulos told Fox News that his legal team has sought a pardon.
“My lawyers have formally asked for a pardon,” Papadopoulos said. “If it’s granted, I would be honored to accept it.”
He later told Fox News' "The Story" that he has "no expectation" but would consider it a "tremendous honor."
Papadopoulos, the first to formally request a presidential pardon, pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal prosecutors about his communications with an overseas professor who promised the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in 2016. He already served his 14-day prison sentence last year.
Of those charged, Flynn, Stone and Gates have yet to be sentenced to any prison time.
Flynn and Stone (who pleaded not guilty and is still fighting the charges) did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment on whether they would request a pardon. Fox News could not reach Gates for comment.
Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney who informally advised Trump during the probe, argues that Flynn, Stone and Papadopoulos should be considered for clemency.
“I think they should not be given prison sentences, and if they are, I recommend they’re given commutations of sentences,” diGenova told Fox News. “They are victims, not defendants. They are victims of a politicized environment of prosecution and they have been abused.”
But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has warned Trump against granting pardons.
“If Trump pardoned anybody in his orbit, it would not play well,” Graham said during a press conference on Capitol Hill Monday, adding in an interview with Axios that he did not think “that would be very smart.”
And Democrats on Capitol Hill, like Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said even before the release of Mueller’s report that the issue of clemency was a “concern” of his.
“I am concerned that the president not misuse his pardon power in a way that will be seen as overtly partisan and to challenge or push back on the whole Mueller investigation,” Coons told Politico.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders this week told ABC News that there was no discussion "at this point" of pardons.
Trump, himself, has said he hasn’t thought about pardoning anyone convicted or charged as part of Mueller’s probe.
But if Trump does decide to consider granting pardons to his former associates, Cohen will likely not be one of them.
Cohen, who is set to report to prison to serve a three-year sentence in May, turned on his boss of nearly a decade when he was indicted. Trump blasted Cohen, claiming he only did so to reduce his prison sentence. Cohen was charged for lying to Congress as part of Mueller's probe -- though was charged over a range of fraud and other counts as part of a related federal investigation based out of New York.
Fox News reported earlier this month that Cohen at one point “directed his attorney” to ask about a possible pardon. Cohen’s former lawyer, Stephen Ryan, also reportedly discussed a pardon with Trump’s lawyers in the weeks after FBI agents raised Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room as part of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York’s criminal investigation into his personal business dealings. But Cohen later decided, and told Congress, that he would not accept a pardon.
Cohen did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment, but his attorney, Lanny Davis, tweeted this week:
“@MichaelCohen212 will soon share with #America what he told Mueller and #Congress. For now, remember this…#collusion to lie or to influence others to lie, while threatening those who dare to tell the #truth during an investigation, is called #ObstructionOfJustice. More to come!”
While Mueller’s investigation found no evidence of collusion, the special counsel decided not to come to a decision on whether the president obstructed justice in any way, kicking that decision to the Justice Department.
On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein effectively cleared Trump, saying that the evidence from the case “is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
Democrats challenged that decision, and have urged Barr to turn over the full report in the near future.