President Donald Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, floated the possibility last year with lawyers for former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort that the President might issue pardons for both men, The New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing three individuals with knowledge of the discussions.
The conversations happened as special counsel Robert Mueller “was building cases against both men,” the Times reported, which raises “questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation” into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Dowd resigned from the President’s legal team earlier this month. In a statement to the Times, Dowd denied the report. “There were no discussions. Period,” he said, according to the Times. “As far as I know, no discussions.”
In a statement, White House counsel Ty Cobb said he has “only been asked about pardons by the press and have routinely responded on the record that no pardons are under discussion or under consideration at the White House.” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders referred to Cobb’s statement when asked about the Times’ report at a briefing Wednesday, later adding that pardons are “not currently” under consideration.
Jay Sekulow, a lawyer representing the President, told the Times that “never during the course of my representation of the President have I had any discussions of pardons of any individual involved in this inquiry.”
The Times reported that Robert Kelner, whom the newspaper identifies as Flynn’s lawyer, and Reginald Brown, Manafort’s attorney at the time, declined to comment on the report.
It is not clear if Dowd spoke with the President about the prospect of pardoning Flynn and Manafort prior to discussing the possibility with their lawyers, according to the Times.
But the President discussed the subject of presidential pardons in a meeting with lawyers with the White House Counsel’s office, the Times reports, citing a person who was briefed on what was discussed during the meeting.
A grand jury had already been convened to look into evidence against Flynn by the time Dowd spoke with Kelner, the Times reports, while the conversation with Brown took place prior to an indictment handed down in October charging Manafort for various financial crimes. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador and is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.
Manafort has been indicted by two grand juries as part of the Mueller investigation for foreign lobbying work, bank fraud and other business he conducted prior to his time leading the Trump campaign. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
By Clare Foran, CNN