As former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort spent a first weekend in jail pending trial on charges brought by the special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Sunday floated the possibility of presidential pardons for Manafort and others charged in the probe.
Giuliani, in separate television interviews, suggested Trump could choose to pardon those he decides were “treated unfairly” but said the president should wait to do so until the Russia investigation is complete. Trump on Friday called Manafort’s jailing “very unfair.”
“You are not going to get a pardon just because you are involved in this investigation,’’ Giuliani said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding, “but you are certainly not excluded from it if, in fact, the president and his advisors, not me, come to the conclusion that you have been treated unfairly.’’
And “there is a lot of unfairness out there,” Giuliani said, echoing Trump’s oft-repeated assertion — which he made yet again on Twitter earlier Sunday — that the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is a “witch hunt.’’ The investigation so far has led to charges against 20 people, five of whom have agreed to guilty pleas.
Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who earlier served as the high-profile U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has been playing “offense’’ on Trump’s behalf, as he describes his role, attacking not only the tactics but also the very justification of the Mueller-led investigation. That’s what he did on the Sunday shows.
He called for investigating the investigators, based on the conduct of a handful of FBI agents involved in what would become the Trump-Russia investigation, in their work on a separate probe of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The conduct he cited, in particular anti-Trump texts from agent Peter Strzok to an FBI lawyer with whom he was romantically involved, were made public last week in an extensive report by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
“I believe that the Mueller investigation should be investigated,’’ Giuliani said. “Not because necessarily of Mueller, but because of its genesis in this very, very, now completely almost illegal and unethical probe, this Russian probe.’’
"It's crying out for somebody to investigate the investigators," he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Giuliani did not provide a basis for his assertions about the investigation's illegitimacy. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded early last year that Russia had sought to help Trump by meddling in the U.S. election, and the FBI began investigating those efforts during the 2016 campaign, a probe that has continued and expanded since.
Giuliani in recent weeks has met with Mueller and his team to discuss under what terms the president might submit to questioning by the prosecutors — an event that would pose risks for Trump if he provided untruthful answers. "We are in rather sensitive negotiations with them," Giuliani said on CBS.
As he has in the past, Giuliani would not say specifically whether Trump would submit to be questioned. If the president does not agree, it’s unclear whether Mueller would try to compel his testimony with a grand jury-issued subpoena.
The tension surrounding the investigation escalated on Friday, when a U.S. District Court judge revoked Manafort’s bail after Mueller’s team brought new charges of witness tampering, alleging that Manafort tried to influence two government witnesses who might testify against him at trial. Manafort was taken into custody and transported to a jail in Virginia about 90 miles south of Washington.
Trump took to Twitter later that day to call Manafort’s jailing “very unfair.’’
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all of the pending charges, most of which allege a detailed conspiracy to launder and avoid paying U.S. taxes on tens of millions of dollars of income he received from representing foreign political clients, including a former leader of Ukraine who was aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Although Trump has sought to distance himself from Manafort by minimizing his campaign role, Manafort joined Trump’s team in early 2016 and was campaign chairman until August, including during the critical weeks culminating in Trump’s nomination at the Republican National Convention.
With questions now intensifying over a potential pardon for the 69-year-old Manafort — who, if convicted, could face a sentence of many years in federal prison — Giuliani on Friday told the New York Daily News, “When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.’’
Mueller, the former FBI director enlisted by the Justice Department to be special counsel in May 2017, has overseen the wide-ranging investigation that to date has brought charges against 20 individuals. The five who have pleaded guilty include Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s first national security advisor, who admitted to lying to investigators and is cooperating with Mueller’s team. In February, Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and to many of the same financial-crime charges brought against Manafort, Gates’ former boss.
On Sunday, Giuliani described Trump’s criterion for any pardon: prosecutorial unfairness, in the eyes of the president. He did not specify how soon any pardons could be expected, but indicated that such action would come after the Mueller investigation.
“The president is not going to issue pardons in this investigation,” he said on CNN. “Because you just cloud what is becoming now a very clear picture of an extremely unfair investigation with no criminality involved in it of any kind."
But, he added, "When it's over, hey, he's the president of the United States. He retains his pardon power. Nobody is taking that away from him. He can pardon, in his judgment."