There are a number of reasons why Donald Trump probably wouldn’t get away with it if he tried pardoning his own alleged criminal co-conspirators. The most straight forward is that similar state-level charges could then be brought against those individuals, which the president can’t pardon under any circumstances. Even as we’ve waited to see how this plays out with Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen in his home state of New York, it turns out Cohen is nailed in California.
Michael Avenatti, the attorney for Donald Trump’s former mistress Stormy Daniels, appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Wednesday night. He used the show to unveil a new piece of evidence in the Trump-Cohen-Daniels hush money saga: a wire receipt from Daniels’ end confirming the $130,000 payout. This itself isn’t news, as Cohen has already stipulated that he made the payout. The news here is that according to the receipt, Cohen made the payment from the San Francisco branch of his company.
This gives the California State Attorney General the jurisdiction to pursue Michael Cohen on wire fraud charges. That office is currently occupied by Xavier Beccara, a Democrat, who has no interest in protecting Donald Trump or his associates. So this means that even if Trump were to try to pardon Cohen on any federal wire fraud charges in the hope of keeping Cohen from cutting a plea deal, the states of California and New York could both take over the prosecution.
Even as Avenatti was making this reveal on CBS, Donald Trump’s new “attorney” Rudy Giuliani was on Fox News making the inexplicable admission that Trump did in fact reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 payoff. This confirms that Trump and Cohen were co-conspirators in the Daniels payout. Most (but not all) legal experts agree that if Trump tries to pardon his co-conspirators on federal charges, the Supreme Court would strip it down for being an illegal act of obstruction of justice. So not only would a federal pardon not do Cohen any good, it might get struck down anyway.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report