He has branded this whole thing a “witch hunt.” Even so, Republicans are not on board with Trump pardoning the alleged witches.
A new poll from “PBS NewsHour” and Marist College shows that even a majority of Republicans oppose Trump granting pardons to associates who have been convicted of crimes stemming from the Mueller probe. Fifty-three percent of Republicans say he shouldn’t pardon anyone; 33 percent support such pardons.
Among the broader public, two-thirds of registered voters (68 percent) oppose pardons, while 20 percent support them. Independents are 3-to-1 against (63 percent to 20 percent).
The idea that Americans don’t feel particularly strongly about pardoning the likes of Paul Manafort or Michael Flynn isn’t surprising. They aren’t the ones with vast bases of support, after all; Trump is. But Trump has also made a point to repeatedly argue that their prosecutions may not have been entirely legit.
Just this week, when asked by Sean Hannity about potential pardons, Trump wrongly said that the FBI had concluded that Flynn hadn’t lied, even though Flynn pleaded guilty to lying. Trump has also repeatedly suggested Manafort was treated unfairly.
“You know what [Flynn] has gone through, and what so many others have gone through,” Trump told Hannity. “I could name names that would just go on for the entire — your entire show. It’s a very, very sad thing. I don’t want to talk about pardons now, but I can say it’s so sad on so many levels.”
The fact that Trump keeps going down this road is notable. It made sense for him to hint at pardons for these people when they were at risk of cooperating with investigators against him. But that ship has largely sailed. And yet Trump is still pressing the idea that they were wronged and perhaps worthy of pardons.
It continues to feed his larger narrative of persecution, sure, but the logic flows from there: If they were so badly mistreated, why wouldn’t they be worthy of pardons? If Trump and Republicans truly believe this was a witch hunt and a complete ruse of an investigation, why wouldn’t you seek to clear the names of people who had their reputations sullied in the process?
There’s also the matter of whether these people might be counting on pardons that Trump is now in the position of delivering. We know that there was an unusual relationship between Manafort’s lawyers and Trump’s, even when Manafort was supposed to be cooperating. Manafort then lied in ways that seemed to benefit Trump. We also know there was some discussion, even if superficial, about pardons between Michael Cohen’s team and Trump’s before Cohen flipped. George Papadopoulos is applying for a pardon. The White House hasn’t ruled them out.
But despite it all, they haven’t convinced even their core supporters that this is a path worth going down. That doesn’t mean it would necessarily blow up in their faces, of course — opinions could certainly change if and when the pardons are granted — but it does suggest Trump has anything but an easy decision here. And it also suggests the GOP’s belief that this was truly a “witch hunt” has its limits.