Trump representatives dangled the possibility of a pardon to Manafort amidst the Mueller probe – in a saga that Mueller investigated as potential obstruction. Trump even hinted publicly at the possibility of a Manafort pardon back in 2018 when he said his former campaign chair was being treated worse than Al Capone.
Now that those pardons have come to fruition, they constitute potential new evidence.
Former top Robert Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told MSNBC Thursday that the pardons were ‘proof of obstruction’ by the president
Former top prosecutor for Robert Mueller Andrew Weissmann told MSNBC Thursday that the pardons were ‘proof of obstruction’ – an alleged crime that Mueller did not charge Trump with in his report after concluding that the president could not be charged with such a crime while in office.
‘I mean, what president decides that of all of the thousands of people who are seeking pardons and commutations that corrupt politicians, corrupt law enforcements officials, people engaged in really serious civil rights abuses, that those are the most deserving people in the nation to receive a presidential pardon? This is really a president who has zero allegiance to the rule of law,’ he said.
He continued: ‘That’s laid out in [the Mueller] report, that there were pardons that were dangled. It was a huge problem in getting people to cooperate. You can see that Roger Stone never cooperated. The judge found and in sentencing him he committed his crimes for the president,’ he added.
Paul Manafort (C), President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, arrives for an arraignment hearing on mortgage fraud charges in Manhattan Supreme Court in New York, New York, USA, 27 June 2019. Trump pardoned him Wednesday
Roger Stone said he would never ‘roll’ on Trump, and did not cooperate with prosecutors
Weissmann said Trump could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice, and said the pardons could constitute evidence
Stone vowed in 2018 that ‘I will never roll on Donald Trump,’ and compared himself to former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who ended up cooperating with authorities.
‘Michael Cohen I am not,’ he said. During his own trial, he repeatedly attacked prosecutors who Trump was also trying to muddy. He ended up getting his sentence commuted, vowed to do all he could to help Trump get reelected, and then got the pardon.
Trump himself called Cohen, his former consigliere, a ‘rat’ after his decision to cooperate.
Weissman pointed to the Manafort pardon as ‘growing proof’ of obstruction.
‘With Paul Manafort the only explanation for his failed cooperation effort is that he was playing for a pardon. And what we saw yesterday was essentially the president, you know, carrying out the final act of an obstruction of justice. So to your point about, can the president currently be prosecuted for obstruction of justice? The answer is, yes. There’s substantial evidence of that, and what he did yesterday is going to be proof of that obstruction, because it’s really the final act that fulfills the promise of the dangled pardons,’ he said.
Manafort was grateful to Trump online in statements issued after receiving the pardon. One thing he won’t be getting back are millions seized by authorities after he made a guilty plea at one point. The feds decided to pursue civil forfeiture against him while prosecuting him on corruption charges, clawing back bank accounts and numerous properties financed through ill-gotten gains.
Weissmann told CNN Thursday that assets seized through civil forfeiture fall outside the pardon, along with the two years Manafort already served – though some of it in home confinement.
“So, there still are consequences to Paul Manafort, they are just not commensurate with the extensive criminality that he was convicted of and plead guilty to,” he said.
Weissmann appeared on MSNBC Thursday
In his 2018 plea agreement, Manafort agreed to relinquish $46 million in assets. It included cash stashed in three bank account, four homes, his Trump Tower condo, and other holdings.
The properties – located in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Virginia, and the Hamptons, were estimated to be worth about $20 million.
Trump was acquitted of obstructing the Mueller probe during impeachment. The Mueller report pointed to DOJ regulations against charging a sitting president.
Trump would not be protected from being charged with potential crimes as an ex-president – one reason the president has contemplated seeking to execute a self-pardon – a move that has not been tested constitutionally.
Trump has tweeted he has the ‘absolute right’ to pardon himself.
He wrote in June 2018: ‘As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?’