The reason Donald Trump will never pardon Michael Cohen


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Donald Trump has gone on yet another berserk rant, this time insisting that Michael Cohen will never cut a plea deal against him. Trump then followed it up by teasing a pardon for the late Jack Johnson, in what was a not so thinly veiled hint to Cohen that he might pardon him as well, in an attempt at convincing Cohen not to flip. Cohen should be wary of taking this bait, because there are a few basic reasons why Trump will never, ever pardon Cohen.

For starters, we know that Trump has played this game before. He dangled pardons in front of Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort last year, according to the New York Times. Flynn didn’t take the bait, and he cut a plea deal against Trump instead. Manafort seemed to have fallen for it, yet nearly a year later, he’s still rotting away under house arrest while awaiting trial, as no pardon ever did come. But this goes beyond Trump’s mere pattern of dishonesty. There are reasons specific to Cohen that spell out why Trump won’t pardon him.

Even if Trump manages to navigate the legal hoops involved in trying to pardon his own alleged co-conspirators on federal charges, he can’t pardon state level charges. There has been some confusion over the fact that the prosecution against Michael Cohen is being led not by Robert Mueller but by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, which is still federal. But of all of Trump’s associates, Cohen would be the easiest target for the State of New York to hit with state level charges, because Cohen handled so many of Trump’s shady business deals in the state.

One of the reasons Donald Trump hasn’t tried to pardon any of his alleged co-conspirators is that rather than preventing them from testifying against him, it would actually force them to testify against him. Once you accept a pardon, you’re not facing any federal criminal liability, so you can’t invoke the Fifth Amendment, and you’re legally required to testify against your co-conspirators. So if Trump pardons anyone who knows his secrets, he’s making a mistake. As he’s shied away from doing so, he appears to understand this. Pardoning Michael Cohen would be his biggest mistake of all. No matter what Trump might tweet, he won’t do it. Cohen probably knows this.

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