There are no magic Trump-Russia pardons, for Paul Manafort or anyone else

Paul Manafort was formally busted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller tonight for having lied during their cooperation deal. As a result, Manafort is headed off to sentencing, and will spend the rest of his natural life in prison. Why did Manafort do it? As we keep seeing, he’s clinically compelled to lie and cheat at all times. Much of the mainstream media is, as always, trying to make this story all about pardons – but that’s simply not a real thing in this scandal.

Let’s say that Donald Trump tries to pardon Paul Manafort tomorrow. First, the Supreme Court will probably immediately strike it down for being an unconstitutional attempt at pardoning an alleged co-conspirator. Trump might have Brett Kavanaugh in his pocket on this, but he probably doesn’t have John Roberts. This isn’t a matter of political ideology; it’s a matter of executive powers.

But let’s say that Manafort’s pardon is somehow upheld. All indications are that New York state would simply arrest him and immediately charge him with various state level crimes. The President cannot pardon state crimes. Only the Governor can, and we’re certain that Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo won’t pardon Manafort.

Even so, let’s say that the state level case somehow falls apart, which it won’t. In such case Manafort would be facing no legal jeopardy at all, and he would therefore be required to testify against Donald Trump. If he refused to do so, he could be immediately re-arrested, and Trump would then have to try to pardon him again. After that, he could be re-arrested again for once again refusing to testify. It would never end, and it’s a battle that Trump and Manafort could never win.

The bottom line is that there is literally no way out of this for Paul Manafort. His two options are to tell the truth or to die of old age in prison, and Donald Trump can’t change that. This leaves only the question of whether Manafort is so naive about these things as to believe that Trump can magically free him with a pardon. Considering that Manafort has some of the sharpest lawyers on earth, there’s no way Manafort would fall for it.

So whatever is going on here with Paul Manafort, it’s simply not about pardons. It never is when it comes to Trump-Russia. They’re not a relevant part of the conversation; they’re just a ratings friendly narrative that cable news relies on whenever possible to keep you tuned in. Yes, it’s possible that Donald Trump snaps tomorrow and tries to pardon Manafort. But Trump would gain nothing from it, and it would probably only speed up his own downfall.