For the past couple months, I've been noting here that there are two reasons I haven't been overly concerned about Trump pardoning people. And most prominent of those is because pardons only cover federal crimes, and I was sure that Robert Mueller was coordinating his efforts with state attorney generals, most particularly Eric Schneiderman of New York. I couldn't imagine that that wasn't the case.
It turns out that indeed that is the case.
There is a big banner story from Politico that broke last evening, with a headline that is simple and direct -- "Mueller teams up with New York attorney general in Manafort probe."
As the story explains, the Special Counsel and New York Attorney General have been working together for weeks, sharing evidence and talking frequently, building a joint case against Manafort on financial crimes, particularly that of money laundering.
To be clear, at the moment this (apparently only covers former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, no one else and only New York.. But "at the moment" is the operative term. After all, at the moment most accounts show that the Special Counsel's office seems to be focusing first on Manafort, as the most vulnerable, hoping to get him to flip and provide evidence against others. And Manafort's troubles are based in New York. But once this concept is breached, the door is over for an ongoing exchange of information. And the procedure is set up for other states to follow. Not that other states may even be necessary.
The importance of this isn't just that it allows New York (or any other state) to indict Paul Manafort, but almost more to the point, it gives Robert Mueller significant more leverage against Manafort to get him to testify. The point being that if Manafort knows he is going to get indicted by New York state, and it carries a significant penalty, Mueller can work out a deal where Manafort would get a much-reduced sentence in return for his testimony. That might be far more appealing to him that waiting on the mercurial Trump to see if he's actually going to issue an pardon. For that matter, even if Trump does issue a pardon, that would only (as noted) cover federal crimes, so it still could be in his best interest to testify, knowing he'd get a lesser sentence that the state might give him.
There's another twist in all this which I heard discussed by legal experts in regards to the story. A few states, and New York is one, have a double-jeopardy law where, in certain cases, a person can't be charged with a state crime if they've already been indicted for the same crime in federal court. However, there's a way to work around that -- the federal Special Counsel and state Attorney General would have to work out a schedule whereby the state would indict first and try its case before the federal government. That's uncommon -- usually states defer to the feds -- but it's not unprecedented, and not unreasonable if the Special Counsel and Attorney general in question are working together.
As Robert Mueller and Eric Schneiderman are.
You can read the article here.
By the way, there's an addendum to all this. The other reason I haven't been overly concerned about presidential pardons is because, when a person is pardoned, he or she loses their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and must testify openly and honestly. Or else they're at risk of being charged with either perjury or obstruction of justice. Well...
There was an article in RawStory yesterday whose headline was -- "Trump trying to pardon his way out of Russia scandal would be 'stupidest' possible plan: legal experts.
And their reasons? Precisely what I noted above. And it goes further, noting that pardoning potential witness in a case that concerns him could put him at risk of being charged with obstruction of justice.
And you can read that article here.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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