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With Mueller’s probe finished, Trump faces question of whether to pardon aides caught up in it

President Trump at the White House on Monday.
President Trump at the White House on Monday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Now that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has concluded his investigation, a president who has used his pardon power in un­or­tho­dox ways faces the question of whether to extend it to former aides and advisers charged with crimes in Mueller’s probe.

On Monday, a lawyer for George Papadopoulos, a former campaign aide to President Trump who served 12 days in prison for lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation, said she has already submitted an application to the White House requesting a pardon.

“It would be malpractice not to,” said Caroline Polisi, Papadopoulos’s attorney. “We submitted it prior to the investigation coming to an end, but the results of the investigation only strengthen our arguments.”

On Monday, Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani said he did not believe the president was considering pardoning anyone in connection with the investigation.

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)

“No, I don’t think he should, and he’s not,” he said. “I don’t think he is, at least.”

However, Trump has reveled in his unlimited constitutional ability to issue pardons, asking aides to draw up lists of celebrities and other well-known personalities who might be deserving of presidential mercy.

In June, the president commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old serving a life sentence for a nonviolent crime, after he received a personal appeal from reality TV megastar Kim Kardashian.

He has also issued pardons to several figures on the political right — including Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff from Arizona; conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza; and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was chief of staff to former vice president Richard B. Cheney.

Trump fixates on unfettered presidential power to pardon

Early on in the Russia investigation, Trump asked aides about his power to pardon those caught up in the investigation — including his family members — and tweeted that he has “the absolute right to PARDON myself.”

At one point, one of his lawyers told attorneys representing former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn that the president might be willing to pardon them.

Former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos sentenced in plea deal with Mueller probe

During an Oval Office meeting Monday with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump was asked by a reporter whether he had thought about pardoning anyone in relation to the Russia investigation.

“No, I haven’t,” Trump said. “I haven’t thought about it.”

Some Trump allies are pushing him to issue pardons soon, particularly for Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during a White House interview in January 2017 about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.

Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent and frequent Fox News commentator, tweeted Sunday, “It’s time to pardon General Flynn and end this disgusting charade.”

Flynn cooperated with the special counsel, and prosecutors recommended to a federal judge in December that he should receive no prison time.

His sentencing was delayed, however, after the judge expressed disdain for his crimes and suggested that an immediate sentencing might result in his incarceration.

Flynn has continued to cooperate with federal prosecutors in Virginia who have charged his former business partner with acting as an unregistered agent of Turkey. Flynn attorney Robert Kelner declined to comment Monday.

It’s unclear how much support Trump would get from fellow Republicans if he issued pardons in connection with the Mueller probe. Several Senate Republicans said Monday that they preferred he refrain from doing so, although a handful of others stressed that, ultimately, it was up to Trump.

“I don’t think that would be particularly helpful to the president,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of the president’s closest allies on the Hill.

“I don’t know why he would do that,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), the second-ranking Senate Republican. “I think that the process has run its course and let the justice system work.”

Five Trump associates pleaded guilty to crimes as part of the special counsel’s investigation. A sixth, GOP operative and Trump adviser Roger Stone, was charged in January with lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering. He is scheduled to go on trial in November.

Among the Trump aides who have been convicted, Manafort faces the lengthiest incarceration so far. Earlier this month, he was sentenced to serve a total of 7½ years in prison.

The longtime lobbyist admitted that he committed bank and tax fraud and failed to properly register as a foreign agent for consulting work he performed in Ukraine before joining Trump’s campaign.

At times, Manafort’s defense seemed designed to appeal to Trump, who repeatedly maintained there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia.

In court, Manafort’s attorneys took pains to argue that he did not conspire with Russia — sometimes raising the issue even when it was irrelevant to the legal topics at hand.

After Manafort was sentenced by two federal judges, his attorney Kevin Downing told reporters outside a federal courthouse that “two courts have ruled no evidence of any collusion with any Russians.”

Neither court had made that ruling and, in fact, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson had pointedly said that the “no collusion mantra” that ran through Manafort’s filings was “simply a non sequitur” to his sentence for other crimes.

But Trump has seemed impressed with Manafort’s approach, including his initial resistance to cooperating with prosecutors. He was ultimately convicted by a jury in Virginia on eight counts of bank and tax fraud and later pleaded guilty in Washington to two more counts.

“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” Trump tweeted in August after the Virginia verdict, adding that unlike Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, Manafort had refused to “break.”

“Such respect for a brave man!” Trump wrote.

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni declined to comment Monday about whether he is seeking a pardon. Manafort has also been charged with mortgage fraud and other crimes in New York state. If he is convicted, Trump could not pardon him on those counts.

Were Trump to issue Mueller-related pardons, he would have to decide whether to give preferential treatment to defendants such as Manafort, or to argue that because he views the whole investigation as illegitimate, he is issuing pardons to everyone ensnared in it as a result.

That would mean also pardoning Cohen, who told Congress this month that Trump is a “con man,” a “cheat” and a “racist.”

Cohen is scheduled to report to prison in May after pleading guilty to financial crimes and lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the presidential campaign. Cohen testified to Congress that he was not interested in pardon from Trump.

Lawyers for Cohen and Stone declined to comment, as did a lawyer for former Trump campaign official Rick Gates, who also pleaded guilty in the investigation.

Outside a federal courthouse in Florida after his arrest in January, Stone was asked if he wanted a pardon from Trump. “The only person I have advocated a pardon for is Marcus Garvey,” he said, referring to the black nationalist leader who was convicted of mail fraud in 1923 as the result of charges widely considered to have been politically motivated.

Josh Dawsey, Seung Min Kim, Manuel Roig-Franzia and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.