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Why Trump Must Think Twice Before He Gives A Pardon To Mike Flynn

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Why Trump Must Think Twice Before He Gives A Pardon To Mike Flynn

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Ever since Michael Flynn departed the Trump White House under a cloud of disgrace last February, speculation has mounted that the president might pardon his former national security adviser. With Flynn’s guilty plea in federal court and disclosure of his cooperation agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller, conjecture about such a pardon is rampant. And for Donald Trump, who clearly assumes that he can get away with anything, the appeal of silencing a potential witness with the pardon power must be almost irresistible.

But he should hesitate before pardoning anyone who might testify about him or members of his family.

By now it must be obvious even to Trump that a pardon for Flynn – or any Mueller defendant or target — would put the final touch on an obstruction of justice brief against him. It would complete a damning timeline that began when he fired FBI director James Comey, after he tried unsuccessfully to suborn Comey into dropping the nascent investigation of Flynn. Such a blatantly criminal abuse of power might even compel the cowardly House Republicans to consider impeachment.

If Trump thinks he would escape impeachment anyway, he should mull the problems he might face after leaving the White House. Regardless of his immunity from prosecution as president, a suspicious pardon would leave him legally vulnerable as soon as his presidency ends.

And if his lawyers doubt that, they should ask Bill Clinton about what happened after he pardoned Marc Rich, the infamous fugitive financier.

There was nothing corrupt about the Rich pardon, which President Clinton signed on January 20, 2001, his final day in office. But Clinton’s critics in the media, Congress, and his own Justice Department, and many Americans who followed the news coverage, suspected he had issued that writ in return for millions of dollars in campaign and foundation contributions from Rich’s ex-wife Denise. Actually, Clinton pardoned Rich because Ehud Barak, then Israel’s prime minister, had requested that favor three times during the final months of their protracted Mideast peace negotiations (as reported in Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, my book about his post-presidency, now in a paperback edition with a new afterword).

Among those most infuriated by the pardons was Mary Jo White, a Clinton appointee then serving as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Less than a month later, on February 15, 2001, White announced that she had opened a criminal investigation. On ABC News’ Good Morning America, Washington correspondent Jackie Judd interviewed a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and former prosecutor who offered the prevailing theory of the case.

According to then-Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions (R-AL): “If a person takes a thing of value for themself [sic] or for another person that influences their decision in a matter of their official capacity, then that could be a criminal offense.” Now that Sessions is attorney general, perhaps he will explain to his apopleptic boss how such a theory of corruption would apply to the matter of a Flynn pardon – or any pardon Trump grants in a scheme to hinder the special counsel.

Three days after White’s announcement in February 2001, Clinton published a 1600-word New York Times op-ed denying any corrupt motive and defending the Rich pardon (without mentioning the entreaties from Barak, which only emerged as a result of the parallel Congressional investigation). Evidently the prosecutors were unpersuaded by Clinton’s argument, since they continued to investigate him as well as Denise Rich and other donors to the Clinton Foundation for more than three years.

By the time that the pardon probe officially folded – without any wrongdoing uncovered – its demise was quietly announced by White’s successor, a George W. Bush appointee named James Comey. Under the Clinton rules, which unofficially stipulate that any finding favorable to the former First Family receives little or no media attention, that announcement got almost no news coverage.

Yet despite the fact that federal prosecutors could make no case against Clinton, what remains is a bipartisan principle articulated by Mary Jo White and Jeff Sessions and pursued rigorously by Jim Comey: a corrupt pardon issued by a former president is fair game for criminal prosecution.

Trump can only ignore that jeopardy at his peril.

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Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers.

Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003).

Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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32 Comments

  1. Carolyn Kay December 1, 2017

    Democrats get prosecuted when they leave office. Republicans don’t.

    Reply
    1. JPHALL December 1, 2017

      Remember both the Nixon and Regan White houses. Several went to prison.

      Reply
      1. Dominick Vila December 2, 2017

        Some Trump aides are likely to end up in jail, if Trump doesn’t pardon them, but I’ll be surprised if The Donald is touched. The only thing that matters to most Republicans is that Trump is delivering the goods. From keeping Mexicans out, to doing everything he can to disenfranchise African Americans, attacking Muslims, to flexing his muscles abroad, and championing an irresponsible tax reform Bill, Trump is their hero and there is very little he could do that would result in Republicans in Congress impeaching and convicting him. The same goes for his faithful supporters. He is not going to lose a single vote regardless of what Mueller finds, and Trump knows it. The only thing that bothers Trump is that a man beneath his status is investigating him and his family.

        Reply
        1. Eleanore Whitaker December 2, 2017

          If Trump is impeached he has NO pardoning powers. No can he sign executive orders. If he is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, he is removed.

          Reply
          1. Sand_Cat December 3, 2017

            But he won’t be, and – if impeached – he won’t be convicted. I think Dominick has detailed why above.

            Reply
      2. Carolyn Kay December 3, 2017

        But not enough. Both Nixon and Reagan should have gone to prison. And so should the campaign advisers who worked with foreign agents to change international outcomes to help them get elected.

        Poppy Bush should have gone to prison. And so should Dubya and the Dick.

        Reply
  2. Dominick Vila December 1, 2017

    Whether or not Trump will pardon Michael Flynn depends on how much Flynn knows about Trump’s love affair with Putin. If Trump fascination with authoritarian leaders is influenced strictly by immaturity or insecurity, and if all Flynn did, besides lying to the FBI, was to convey planned policy decisions, Trump will most likely refrain from pardoning Flynn. However, if Flynn knows something a lot more damning than just Trump’s character flaws, something so bad that Republican members of Congress would have no choice but to impeach The Donald, Trump may pardon Flynn to save his own hide, obstruction of Justice be damned. Remember what Trump said, the only person that matters is himself.

    Reply
    1. dbtheonly December 1, 2017

      Dom, there is nothing so bad that House Republicans would have to impeach.

      There is nothing so bad that Senate Republicans would have to convict.

      With respect to our friend, JP, I don’t recall the Nixon Administration trials long outlasting his Presidency.

      Reply
      1. Dominick Vila December 2, 2017

        I agree. Not even conclusive evidence of money laundering, bribery, or even murders, will be enough for Republicans in Congress to impeach and convict. They know that if they do that, Trump supporters will vote them out of office.

        Reply
        1. 788eddie December 2, 2017

          And if they don’t do that, the Dems will vote them out of office.

          Reply
          1. Dominick Vila December 3, 2017

            Unfortunately, there are more than twice as many Democrats running for re-election in 2018 than there are Republicans, and with 36 State governments in GOP hands, the chances of us winning a majority in the Senate are very slim. Our best hope is for Republicans to over reach and do something such as cutting Social Security and MEDICARE benefits. That would produce an immediate response from millions of seniors, who vote. I don’t have any confidence or respect for Republicans in Congress, but I don’t think they are that dumb. They know that alienating seniors would be political suicide.

            Reply
          2. Sand_Cat December 3, 2017

            Hope you’re right, but I doubt it.

            Reply
      2. Eleanore Whitaker December 2, 2017

        Then, I am sure you do recall why President Andrew Johnson was impeached? It was for “misdemeanors” since he committed no “crimes.”

        The Nixon trials lasted exactly 18 months. From the minute Nixon fired his AG and then tried to fire the AG’s replacement, Nixon knew his presidency was in tatters. Nixon never committed a felony. Trump has for decades. Trump’s crime is allowing his campaign staffers and transition team to make policy deals with Russia BEFORE Obama even left office. Those deals were in direct opposition to what a sitting president was trying to do.

        Interfering with a sitting president’s policy BEFORE he leaves office and BEFORE Trump took the oath of office is obstruction of justice and compromising national security.

        Rep. Al Green (D-TX) plans this coming week to put the article of impeachment to the floor of Congress. He has that right under the Constitution. He can also pursue it without the need for the GOP majority to vote on it.

        If you hide a criminal under the title of president, he is still a criminal. If Trump is impeached, there are state crimes two states want a piece of that Lard Ass for.

        Reply
        1. dbtheonly December 2, 2017

          If I recall correctly President Johnson was impeached for firing Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War. Doing so in defiance of the Tenure of Office Act.

          Nixon actively participated in a coverup of the extent of the Watergate break-in. Again my recollection has it the the final piece of evidence was Nixon telling (?) to cover it up, get the CIA involved, whatever.

          With respect to Our Gracious Host, I have trouble using Trump and must in the same sentence. There is nothing Trump must. He’ll do whatever he chooses to do at any given moment. Where Col. Roosevelt was “pure act”; Trump is pure random.

          Reply
      3. Dominick Vila December 2, 2017

        The biggest problem for Trump may turn out to be his recent Tweet, in which he said that he fired Flynn because he lied to the VP and to the FBI. If he knew that Flynn lied to the FBI, why did he ask Comey to drop the Flynn investigation? Looks like deliberate obstruction of justice to me.

        Reply
        1. Sharon December 3, 2017

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          Reply
      4. JPHALL December 2, 2017

        While Nixon resigned in 1973, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, both were convicted in 1975. Do you really think that Trump would resign?

        Reply
        1. dbtheonly December 2, 2017

          My money would be on Trump resigning “for health reasons” after there is enough impetus for the 25th Amendment to be invoked. Pence goes to Don & says here is the letter ready to go to Ryan. You can sign this and resign for health reasons or we will remove you. Trump resigns “to get the help he so desperately needs”. Pence and Ryan hold a teary press conference in which they mourn that “this Great American’s (capital letters) health won’t permit him to serve the American People as he wanted. But we’ll carry on in his name to accomplish…”

          Reply
          1. canoebum December 2, 2017

            Nice fairy tale. Donald Trump never admits to being at fault…for anything. Pence is in this traitorous plot up to his eyebrows, and Ryan may not even be re-elected in his own district. Under your scenario, upon presentation of the letter, Trump would demand Pence’s resignation and immediately tweet out to his deplorable base the details of Pence’s perfidy. Ryan has no balls. He’s so scared of his own caucus he would never dare to try such a play for power.

            Reply
          2. dbtheonly December 2, 2017

            The key is whether the Republicans would rather face an impeachment, which would rain manure on them all, or have Trump exit pseudo-voluntarily.

            Trump starts twittering his anger, Pence announces Trump’s illness. The more Trump fumes, the less Pence says, shakes his head slowly and says, “There he goes a gain, tragic isn’t it?”

            Reply
          3. Sand_Cat December 3, 2017

            There will be no GOP impeachment of ANY GOP officeholder. To “face an impeachment,” many, many Republicans would have to lose in 2018, and – despite all the apparent anger now – I wouldn’t bet on it.

            Reply
    2. Sand_Cat December 3, 2017

      The GOP will ALWAYS have a choice about impeaching Trump: don’t mean to be disrespectful to you, but good god, man, haven’t the Republicans yet proved to you that NOTHING can shame them into doing the right thing?

      Reply
      1. Dominick Vila December 4, 2017

        Thank you for confirming my opinion and expectations of most Republicans.

        Reply
  3. FireBaron December 2, 2017

    “Now that Sessions is attorney general, perhaps he will explain to his
    apopleptic boss how such a theory of corruption would apply to the
    matter of a Flynn pardon – or any pardon Trump grants in a scheme to
    hinder the special counsel.” Unfortunately to Teflon Donnie, he would take it to mean pardoning Flynn would mean a new investigation against the Clintons would open.
    Here is something else to consider – Pardon him. That way, Flynn would no longer enjoy the 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination, and his full testimony could be coerced. Then the rest of the dominoes would fall.

    Reply
  4. Eleanore Whitaker December 2, 2017

    Trump is so far out of his league believing he can be a politician. That’s why he is on the phone every week with Putin, who is a dictatorial politician who rigs his country’s elections.

    Obama warned Trump about Flynn. Two words from Obama and Mr. Lard Ass does just the opposite. Sally Yates tried to warm Trump about Flynn, but Mr. “I make ALL the decisions” tried to get Comey to drop the FBI inquiry into National Security Advisor Flynn appointed by Trump.

    Now, Trump’s fair hair Flynn is singing like a canary to save not himself, but Flynn Jr, his son. Did Trump actually think that pledge of loyalty meant everyone including flesh and blood?

    It was okay when Trump loaded up his cabinet with family but how dare Flynn reneg on his loyalty for his own son right?

    My opinion of Trump is now what is was when he first played Mr. Playboy Dreamboat of Manhattan. He’s a two bit, low life bum who would sell his own mother to Moore for the right price.

    Reply
  5. Richard Prescott December 2, 2017

    Well here’s the strange deal possibly coming. If, now that the Senate has passed their abortion of a tax plan, a call for impeachment is made, there might be a few Republicans willing to sacrifice their careers for the betterment of the country.
    As I see it the impeachment of Trump will open criminal prosecutions in 2 states and he is guilty of criminal behavior. Facts now come to light thanks to Meuller. There might be a few Republicans with enough of a spine left to see the reality of what is going on.
    This has nothing to do with Trump’s pardoning Flynn or not.
    It has a lot to do with what Flynn will reveal further, now that he has his bargain, leaving his son out of it. Face it, whatever might have been left of Flynn’s career in whatever is gone. And just maybe his oath to the country as a 3 star General will come back to him.
    Oh, and to wrap it up, there might also be some criminal behavior revealed on some sitting Congressmen and Senators. If so, why would they want to go down and leave Teflon Don around.

    Reply
    1. dbtheonly December 2, 2017

      You taking bets on Republicans with spines?

      Reply
      1. JPHALL December 2, 2017

        HA, HA, HA!

        Reply
  6. angryspittle December 2, 2017

    The SOB should already have been impeached. He has proven that he is untouchable.

    Reply
  7. Lynda Groom December 3, 2017

    ‘Think twice.’ I still waiting for evidence that Trump has thunk once.

    Reply
  8. Johnny five December 3, 2017

    I see that the same losers are always on here. You losers need to get a job!!

    Reply
    1. Sand_Cat December 3, 2017

      One would think you would be better at yours: writing “comments” here. Somebody’s not getting his/her money’s worth.

      Reply

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