WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump refused to answer a question Tuesday about whether he would be willing to pardon his disgraced campaign manager, clamming up and indicating he was done talking to the press.
“Are you going to pardon [Paul] Manafort?” asked HuffPost reporter Shirish Dáte after Trump had a meeting at the White House with business leaders.
“Thank you,” Trump replied, indicating he was no longer going to take any questions from reporters.
Prior to Dáte’s question, Trump had answered a question about phasing in corporate tax rate reductions.
On Monday, Manafort and his business associate, along with a former Trump campaign adviser, were indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. Manafort faces 12 counts, including charges of money laundering and conspiracy.
Manafort served as Trump’s campaign manager for three months, including during the Republican convention.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also declined to rule out pardons for Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, during Monday’s briefing.
“I haven’t had any conversations with him about that. I think we should let the process play through before we start looking at those steps,” she said.
The White House has tried to downplay the indictments, arguing that much (but not all) of the charges against Manafort and Gates dealt with their lobbying work before the campaign.
A potentially more problematic indictment is the third one, against George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser.
The Papadopoulos charges, dated Oct. 5 but only unsealed on Monday, deal directly with his work during the election and his attempt to link up the Russian government with the Trump campaign. His statements also make clear that he was acting with the involvement of higher-ranking officials in Trump’s orbit. He has also been cooperating with investigators for months.
Speculation about whether Trump will pardon his associates ― and possibly fire Mueller in order to get the investigation to stop ― has picked up in recent days. In The Wall Street Journal, for example, two conservative lawyer urged Trump to issue a blanket pardon, saying the Russia matter should not be taken up by a special counsel:
Mr. Mueller’s investigation has been widely interpreted as partisan from the start. Mr. Trump’s opponents instantaneously started talking of impeachment—never mind that a special counsel, unlike an independent counsel, has no authority to release a report to Congress or the public. Mr. Trump’s supporters count the number of Democratic donors on the special-counsel staff. The Mueller investigation is fostering tremendous bitterness among Trump voters, who see it as an effort by Washington mandarins to nullify their votes.
Mr. Trump can end this madness by immediately issuing a blanket presidential pardon to anyone involved in supposed collusion with Russia or Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, to anyone involved with Russian acquisition of an American uranium company during the Obama administration, and to anyone for any offense that has been investigated by Mr. Mueller’s office. Political weaponization of criminal law should give way to a politically accountable democratic process. Nefarious Russian activities, including possible interference in U.S. elections, can and should be investigated by Congress.
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