For months, President Trump has been dangling the prospect of a pardon for his former campaign manager, longtime Russian agent and convicted felon Paul Manafort. He also consulted several times with his personal lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, about such a move, Carol Leonnig reports.
Trump’s lawyers reportedly advised Trump to wait. “The real concern,” explains Giuliani, “is whether Mueller would turn any pardon into an obstruction charge.”
Of course, obstructing justice is the whole point of pardoning Manafort. Trump’s campaign manager spent years in the employ of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, helping pro-Russian candidates win elections in Ukraine and elsewhere. Manafort’s partner, Konstantin Kilimnik, was working for Russian intelligence throughout. Manafort apparently viewed his uncompensated tenure as Trump campaign manager as service to Deripaska, hoping — as he wrote in emails to Kilimnik — he could “get whole” by working with Trump.
Manafort probably knows a lot of incriminating things. Here is his hilarious response in 2016, when asked whether Trump had any relationship with Russian oligarchs:
The calculation behind charging Manafort with financial crimes is that the threat of a lengthy prison service would force him to reveal the extent of Trump’s ties to Russia. By dangling pardons with apparent success, Trump seems to have persuaded Manafort to keep his mouth shut. The alternative, exculpatory explanation is that Trump is simply so moved by the plight of his corrupt, money-laundering former campaign manager that he is willing to risk looking very guilty in order to extend a pardon to a man he also repeatedly insists he barely knows.
Trump’s defenders have argued over and over that the lack of Russia-related charges against Manafort suggests there was no collusion with Russia. That Mueller “has investigated and charged four figures from the Trump campaign — Manafort, Gates, Flynn, and Papadopoulos — and not charged any with crimes involving collusion appears to be significant,” argues Byron York. “If there were in fact a Trump-Russia collusion scheme, they would likely have been involved.”
The charges may still come. (Another Manafort partner, Rick Gates, has already flipped.) If they do not, it may well be because Trump persuaded Manafort to withhold evidence, and it worked.