Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was recently convicted on eight counts of bank fraud and tax evasion from about a decade ago, and Manafort faces another trial soon on additional criminal charges related to lobbying on behalf of foreign interests, which he did in the years prior to briefly joining Trump’s team in 2016.
Now, rumors are swirling among the Washington media and political establishment about how Trump will ultimately respond, and though he has reportedly been counseled not to do so, there are some who believe the president will eventually pardon Manafort of those convictions.
According to Politico, who cited “eight current and former administration officials and outside advisers” in their report, some believe that Trump’s kind words for Manafort following his conviction — he called him a “brave man” and a “victim” — could be an effort to lay the groundwork ahead of a pardon or commutation of sentence.
Victim of the ‘witch hunt’
“Trump is setting it up,” a source who identified him or herself as a former official from Trump’s campagin said. “He’s referring to the investigation as a ‘witch hunt’ and saying this never would have happened to an aide to Hillary Clinton.”
Politico reported that three senior aides to the president said Trump has not spoken directly about pardoning Manafort, and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said that Trump had agreed to not issue a pardon for Manafort — at least until after the midterm elections.
Manafort’s crimes have nothing to do with Trump or alleged Russian collusion, but they are being persued by Robert Mueller, whose investigation Trump has often called a biased and one-sided “witch hunt” designed to ruin those around him and eventually bring him down as well.
“He certainly does not need to do it,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said of the potential pardon. “The things Manafort has been convicted of have nothing to do with Trump.”
Gingrich added: “The president thinks Manafort’s biggest crime was running the Trump campaign. If he had run the Clinton campaign, then he would have gotten immunity and never would have had any problems.”
Potential political firestorm
There is no arguing that President Trump has the executive authority to issue pardons to any individual he chooses, but a pardon in Manafort’s case would undoubtedly spark a political firestorm and prove quite unpopular among the far-left and bipartisan political establishment.
A pardon of Manafort prior to his being tried on all alleged crimes — and prior to the midterm elections — would likely be viewed as an effort to obstruct justice and would be seized upon by Democrats to rally voters in opposition to Trump’s presidency.
But even a pardon of Manafort after the trials and midterm elections are completed would likely cause consternation, as it would be viewed as a signal to other potential witnesses, and may appear as though Trump had walked back his vow to “drain the swamp.”
Trump has reportedly been counseled by many to avoid any appearance of impropriety that would come along with a pardon of Manafort, but the president is known to place great trust his instincts, so there is really no telling if Trump will ever address the controversial topic.