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Expert on clemency explains how Trump is setting the stage to pardon Paul Manafort

December 9, 2018 in Blogs

By The Conversation

Pardoning Manafort would not only hamper the Russia investigations, it would also deliver another serious blow to American democracy and the rule of law.

Austin Sarat, Amherst College

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, may be hoping for a presidential pardon.

In September, Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy against the U.S. He also agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. However, Mueller recently filed papers in the federal district court for the District of Columbia alleging that Manafort had violated his cooperation agreement by repeatedly lying to the FBI and to Mueller’s investigators.

In addition, one of Manafort’s lawyers has been repeatedly briefing President Trump’s lawyers about his client’s discussions with the special counsel’s team.

Manafort may have been trying to please two masters in this period by both claiming to cooperate with Mueller, yet at the same time providing Trump with back-channel information about Mueller’s investigation that would benefit him. As a legal scholar, this incident raises a crucial question: Was this Manafort’s play for a pardon?

My research on clemency shows how chief executives have used this power, in particular the power to pardon, to halt criminal prosecutions, sometimes even before they begin.

‘For any reason at all’

The pardoning power, as Founding Father Alexander Hamilton explained, is very broad, applying even to cases of treason against the United States. As Hamilton put it, “The benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed.”

Throughout our history, courts have taken a similarly expansive view. In 1977, Florida’s State Supreme Court said that “an executive may grant a pardon for good reasons or bad, or for any reason at all, and his act is final and irrevocable.”

In 1837, the United States Supreme Court held that the president’s pardon power “extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken, or during their pendency, or after conviction and judgment.”

Yet prospective pardons are quite rare. The most famous …read more


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