When Donald Trump pardoned his criminal former campaign surrogate Joe Arpaio last week, it was his way of signaling to his co-conspirators in the Russia scandal that he’s willing to pardon them as well. The message was clear: Don’t flip on me, just take the rap and I’ll get you off the hook. But it turns out Special Counsel Robert Mueller is one step ahead of Trump when it comes to these kinds of hijinks, and he’s already found a way to stop Trump’s scheme.
Yesterday MSNBC broke the news that the Attorney General from at least one state (ostensibly New York) was ready to pick up the reins of the Russia investigation if Trump found a way to fire Mueller. Now comes word that the landscape is far more sophisticated and proactive. Politico (link) is reporting that Mueller is working with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to bring state level charges against the likes of Paul Manafort.
Why does this matter? The president can’t pardon anyone from state level charges or crimes. There is already a Constitutional debate as to whether Donald Trump can pardon his advisers on federal charges, as no president has ever tried pardoning his own co-conspirators. However, it is well established that the president cannot pardon anyone – not his advisers, not his family, not himself, not total strangers – on state level crimes.
This means that Robert Mueller is using his partnership with the State of New York to nail Manafort on state charges, ensuring that Donald Trump can’t pardon him. This will leave Manafort in the position of having no choice but to flip on Trump in order to stay out of prison. And while it’s not yet been reported anywhere, it’s nearly a given that Mueller is also working with the states to nail Trump’s other associates and co-conspirators in similar fashion.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report