And so, now, the pardons? If President Trump does want to pardon Paul Manafort and – preemptively – Roger Stone, he has a problem. On the one hand, Trump has spent the past two years attacking the Russia inquiry as a ‘witch-hunt hoax,’ a Deep State-Clinton-Obama dirty tricks campaign to steal back the White House. On the other hand, Robert Mueller said he could not ‘establish’ there had been collusion and so Trump now acknowledges – sort of – that the investigation might not have been so bad after all. Before the Special Counsel reported, it was ‘Bob Mueller and his gang of Democrat thugs’; afterwards, Mueller was ‘honorable’ and his investigation ‘100 percent the way it should’ve been’.
So can Trump really question prosecutions brought by the same man who delivered the best, most richly deserved, most complete and total exoneration ever given to a wrongly accused president by a Department of Justice? Certainly he can. No one has ever accused ‘your favorite president’ of consistency. The seeds are already there. Trump has said Manafort, his former campaign manager, is a ‘really good man,’ a ‘brave man’ who refused to ‘break’. ‘Respect!’ He also praised Stone, his friend and former adviser, for ‘having guts’ in refusing to ‘flip’ and testify for Mueller. And Trump has been here before – with the presidential pardons he issued for Dinesh D’Souza and Scooter Libby.
Libby, who was Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, was convicted of perjury. Trump’s decision to pardon him was seen by some as a signal to those under investigation in the Russia inquiry to hang tough. Libby always protested his innocence. D’Souza, a conservative commentator, admitted his crime, which was making illegal campaign contributions through ‘straw donors’ designed to hide the source of the money – him. But he always argued that he had been ‘selectively prosecuted’ for political reasons, and Trump bought that argument. The president supposedly told him: ‘You’ve been screwed.’You can easily imagine conversations like that taking place with Manafort and Stone.
Around Washington, Trump’s enemies do imagine those conversations taking place. One former senior official in the Obama administration was depressed and angry about the prospect of this. ‘Congress will continue to investigate but it’s very hard because the message is that if you talk you go to jail, but if you don’t talk, you stay out. There will be pardons.’ Another critic of Trump, a political consultant who’d been in Washington for decades, said the president would now ‘manifest his inner Roy Cohn’ – Cohn was the hard-nosed Trump family lawyer, who also represented mob bosses, and was counsel to Sen. Joe McCarthy’s hearings on un-American activities. The political consultant said there would be a ‘rough period’ ahead. ‘The FBI, the Southern District [of New York], the DoJ: they will all be purged….Barr as Beria.’ (Lavrentiy Beria was the head of Stalin’s secret police and carried out his ruthless purges.)
The president likes the idea of pardons. He believes, as he once tweeted, that he has the ‘absolute right’ to pardon himself – should he one day actually shoot someone on Fifth Avenue. Last year, the Washington Post quoted a White House official who said Trump was ‘obsessed’ with pardons – they were the president’s new ‘favorite thing’. The Post said that pardons had ‘a special resonance for Trump, representing one area where he has almost unchecked power as other aspects of his presidency remain outside his control’. A president can just go ahead and issue a pardon without consulting Congress and (to some extent) the bureaucracy. Or as Hamilton put it in Federalist 74: ‘Humanity and good policy conspire to dictate that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed.’ Wonderful! It’s like The Apprentice, but better. Not ‘You’re fired!’ But ‘You’re pardoned!’
One person’s pardon is another person’s witness tampering. There is always the outside chance that if the House of Representatives revives the idea of impeachment, tweets praising Manafort and Stone for being ‘brave’ could form part of a case of obstruction of justice – especially if there are pardons. But even with Mueller failing to exonerate Trump on that exact charge, obstruction, talk of impeachment among House Democrats has (largely) been silenced. Rudy Giuliani, the president’s spokeslawyer, long ago pointed the way to what may happen now. After Manafort went to jail last year – for breaching his bail conditions – Giuliani told the New York Daily News: ‘When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.’
If so, this isn’t the only good news for Manafort. Prosecutors have said he will be allowed to keep the $15,000 ostrich skin jacket that was an exhibit in his trial for money laundering and tax fraud. There was also a python bomber jacket that cost $18,500 and a blue ‘Members-Only-style jacket’ – whatever that is – that appeared to be made out of snake skin and cost $32,800. Inside was an embroidered label that said: ‘Wearable art…For P.M.’ What are Manafort’s chances of once again being able to wear his appalling collection of ridiculous clothing? Quite high, Cockburn would guess. As President Trump said after Mueller’s findings were published: ‘America is the greatest place on earth. The greatest place on earth.’