Trump's attorney discussed pardons for Flynn and Manafort last year -- which Mueller could investigate as obstruction
President Donald Trump (Instagram) and lawyer John Dowd (Emory University). Composite image.

The recently departed attorney for President Donald Trump raised the possibility of pardoning Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort with their attorneys last summer -- which could potentially be used as evidence in an obstruction of justice case.

Three sources told the New York Times about the discussions, which came as special counsel Robert Mueller was building cases against the two Trump campaign officials.

The talks suggest Trump's lawyers were concerned about what Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty, and Manafort, who has been indicted, might tell Mueller in exchange for leniency, the paper reported.

Mueller's team could investigate whether attorney John Dowd, who left the president's legal team last week, made the pardon offers in an effort to thwart the investigation.

Presidents have broad, but not unlimited, power to pardon federal crimes, and legal experts are divided over whether Trump could pardon his campaign associates in the Mueller probe.

“The framers did not create the power to pardon as a way for the president to protect himself and his associates," said Samuel W. Buell, a professor of law at Duke University.

Under that interpretation, Dowd's conversations with lawyers for Flynn and Manafort could potentially be used as evidence of intent in an obstruction case.

Dowd has repeatedly insisted no pardon offers have been made, the newspaper reported.