Throughout the year, one of the most popular narratives about the Trump-Russia scandal is that Donald Trump would strategically pardon his co-conspirators, his advisers, his family, and even himself in order to make sure that no one cut a deal against him, and that no one he cared about went down. Now that we’re getting into the phase where pardons would come in really handy, the actions of the various Trump-Russia players are making clear that no one thinks they’re getting pardoned.
Five weeks after the arrest of Paul Manafort, there has still been no whiff of a pardon. Trump and Manafort are longtime associates. Manafort ran his campaign. Manafort lives in Trump Tower. Okay, so they were never best buds. But how about Michael Flynn? Trump and Flynn were close, for reasons no one understands to this day. Flynn just cut a plea deal against Trump, however, which made clear that he didn’t think Trump was going to pardon him. It’s hitting even closer to home.
When Donald Trump Jr testified before Congress yesterday, all he had to do was omit the part where he told Hope Hicks about his Russia meeting, and if he got caught lying, wait for his dad to pardon him. Instead Junior admitted that he told Hicks, which is going to lead to Hicks cutting a deal and testifying against Donald Trump. Even Trump’s own son didn’t seem to be willing to rely on his father’s willingness or ability to pardon him. So what gives?
There are a few things at play. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has teamed up in some instances with State Attorneys General so that his targets also face parallel state level charges that Trump can’t pardon. But this seems to run deeper. It’s an unresolved and never-tested constitutional question as to whether a sitting president can pardon his co-conspirators, his family, or himself. Perhaps no one involved is willing to take the risk of the Supreme Court shooting their pardon down. Or maybe none of them expect Donald Trump to be in office long enough to pardon them in the end. After all, they know better than anyone that he’s unraveling by the day.
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