President Trump asked his lawyers several weeks ago for their advice on the possibility of pardoning Paul Manafort, his lawyer said Thursday.
The subject of pardoning Manafort came up as Trump’s former campaign chairman faced multiple charges of bank fraud and tax evasion in an Alexandria court and the president was expressing his anger at how federal prosecutors had “beat up” and mistreated Manafort, Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani said in an interview.
Trump’s lawyers counseled the president against the idea of pardoning anyone linked to the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to Giuliani, saying Trump should at least wait until special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has concluded his probe. Giuliani said the president agreed and did not push the issue further.
“He said yes,” Giuliani said. “He agreed with us.”
Giuliani said Trump was simply seeking advice as he complained about Manafort’s criminal exposure on charges unrelated to his work on Trump’s campaign. Giuliani said he and fellow personal attorney Jay Sekulow advised waiting to see whether Mueller delivers a damning report that accuses the president of trying to block a federal probe of his campaign’s contacts with Russians.
Mueller’s findings are supposed to be provided in a report to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who would then decide whether any evidence of wrongdoing was serious enough that it should be presented to Congress to consider for impeachment proceedings.
“We told him he should wait until all the investigations are over,” Giuliani said of their discussion. “This [special counsel] case is a strange case. It won’t be decided by a jury. It will decided by the Justice Department and Congress and ultimately the American people. You have to be sensitive to public optics.”
Giuliani said he and Sekulow provided their advice to delay any possible pardons for people linked to the Mueller probe in the last “3 to 5 weeks” — in the wake of a series of pardons Trump granted this summer.
“We sat him down and said you’re not considering these other pardons with anybody involved in the investigation. He said yes, absolutely I understand,” Giuliani said. “The real concern is whether Mueller would turn any pardon into an obstruction charge.”
Other Trump associates who have plead guilty as part of Mueller’s investigation include former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and Trump campaign aide Rick Gates.
Trump has repeatedly decried the government’s treatment of Manafort — who a jury found guilty Tuesday on eight counts of tax- and bank-fraud charges. On Wednesday, the president told reporters that Manafort was a “good man” and that he felt sorry for him.
On Wednesday, he tweeted in support of Manafort while criticizing Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, who pleaded guilty Tuesday to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a bank and two campaign finance violations: willfully causing an illegal corporate contribution and making an excessive campaign contribution.
Cohen implicated Trump directly in some of his acts, saying he arranged to pay off two women to keep their stories of alleged affairs with Trump from becoming public before Election Day — in coordination with the then-candidate.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” Trump tweeted. “ ‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”
Giuliani said it was Trump’s concern for Manafort that started the conversation about a pardon.
“He feels Manafort has been mistreated. Nobody in a case like this gets raided in the middle of the night, put in solitary confinement,” Giuliani said. “They tried to crack him and it didn’t work. Over the last two to three weeks, he’s expressed anger and frustration about how he’s been treated.”
Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.