A former White House lawyer can't believe President Donald Trump and his personal attorney have been publicly floating a pardon for Paul Manafort as the former campaign chairman awaits sentencing, according to Vanity Fair.
Manafort, who ran Trump's campaign during summer 2016, was convicted this week on eight counts of tax and bank fraud and awaits another trial on money laundering and other charges -- and Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani have hinted a pardon may be coming.
"This is yet one more instance, this time out of the mouth of his own lawyer, that the president is signaling to Manafort that a pardon may be on the way," said Bob Bauer, White House general counsel to Barack Obama.
"It is impossible not to see this as encouragement to a witness in a criminal investigation to withhold cooperation," Bauer added. "It is remarkable that Giuliani and his team do not see how the president, with this conduct, continues to do extraordinary damage to his position in the ongoing investigations.”
Harry Litman, a former U.S. Attorney and deputy assistant attorney general, told the magazine that Trump's conduct could be considered illegal if his intent was corrupt.
"I think it’s really straightforward legally — but that doesn’t mean straightforward factually,” Litman said. “If Trump is either dangling a pardon or giving a pardon in order to prevent Manafort from giving truthful testimony to Mueller, that’s obstruction of justice -- and it doesn’t change it that he’s the president of the United States. In some ways, it aggravates it.”
However, some legal experts say the president's pardon power is so broad that it would be difficult to make a criminal obstruction case.
“I don’t think exercise of an explicit constitutional power can be part of any obstruction case — even if the reason for it is illicit or in other people’s judgment wrong,” said one Washington defense lawyer with experience with White House ethics cases.