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Trump and Manafort get big reminder that pardon power does not extend to state crimes

Paul Manafort (C), then campaign adviser for Donald Trump, talks with supporters after a speech by the presidential candidate on the eve of his Indiana primary victory in New York on May 3, 2016. (EPA/Justin Lane)

Politico reported Wednesday that New York’s attorney general Eric Schneiderman is now working with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in the probe of financial transactions involving Paul Manafort, a story independently confirmed by The Washington Post by a source familiar with the investigation.

While the involvement of Schneiderman could produce nothing and is in an early stage, the news sends an important message to President Trump: his pardon power does not extend to state crimes.

In the event Manafort or anyone else is charged under New York law, or threatened with indictment, there will be nothing Trump can do about it.

His “power to grant reprieves and pardons” only covers “offenses against the United States,” according to Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Reports of Schneiderman’s interest in Manafort are not new.

Professor Louis Seidman explains how President Trump could use his pardon power, and the limits on indicting a sitting president. (Video: Ashleigh Joplin/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

But the news that the New York attorney general is teaming up with Mueller attracted a good deal of attention from Trump critics because of the pardon issue. Trump pointedly tweeted in July that he has “complete power to pardon” aides, family members and possibly even himself. His pardon Friday of former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio was a seen by some as strong message that he is willing to use the pardon power liberally.

“So much for strategic use of pardon power with Manafort,” tweeted Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe.

According to the Politico report:

The two teams have shared evidence and talked frequently in recent weeks about a potential case, these people said. One of the people familiar with progress on the case said both Mueller’s and Schneiderman’s teams have collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering.
No decision has been made on where or whether to file charges. “Nothing is imminent,” said one of the people familiar with the case.

A spokeswoman for Schneiderman declined to comment.

Manafort has denied any wrongdoing.

There are plenty of points of entry into the Manafort probe for a New York prosecutor.

The Wall Street Journal reported in May that Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., were examining Manafort real estate transactions across the U.S., including in New York, “for indications of money-laundering and fraud.”

NBC news reported that some of those New York loans were financed in part by a Ukrainian émigré to the U.S.

Manafort told NBC through a spokesman that his transactions were “executed in a transparent fashion …” But NBC reported that Manafort’s name and signature did not appear on loan documents.

Manafort was chairman of Trump’s campaign until he resigned amid growing scrutiny of his decade of work in Ukraine on behalf of a Russia-friendly political party, the Party of Regions.

FBI agents with a search warrant raided the home of Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, without warning July 26 and seized records. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Manafort’s personal finances may be totally unrelated to Mueller’s probe into possible coordination of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

But Mueller could conceivably use any jeopardy faced by Manafort in New York to gain his cooperation into the broader investigation, without the hindrance of a Trump pardon of Manafort.

Indeed, The Post reported earlier this month that Manafort’s allies feared that Meuller wants to build a case against Manafort independent of the 2016 campaign “in hopes that he would provide information against others in Trump’s inner circle in exchange for lessening his legal exposure.”

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