On 25 November, US President Donald Trump announced that he had pardoned his former national security adviser Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn over charges related to an inquiry into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Michael Flynn’s pardon has spurred a wave of speculations from media commentators about whether President Trump will now issue similar remissions to his high-profile associates, including ex-lobbyist Paul Manafort or the President’s 2016 campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, both of whom were convicted in relation to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation which has repeatedly been dismissed by POTUS as “hoax”.
Trump’s ex-national security adviser Flynn was accused in 2017 of lying to the FBI about the content of his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak during the 2016 transition period. He pleaded guilty to the charges and agreed to co-operate with Mueller’s probe that eventually failed to find any substantial evidence to claim Russia’s interference into America’s democratic processes. Flynn later moved to withdraw his guilty plea, accusing authorities of violating his constitutional rights in relation to the bargain.
Trump’s pardon of Flynn came just several months after the President had commuted another official charged in relation to Mueller’s investigation, Roger Stone – his former campaign consultant who was preparing to serve 40 months in prison on charges of lying to Congress and witness tampering. In 10 July 2020, just several days before Stone was to report to prison, the US President commuted his sentence, a move that has sparked a lot of controversies back then.
Who Might Be on The List of ‘Pardoned’?
As American news outlets are now expecting Trump to concede presidential victory to Joe Biden and vacate the White House in January 2021, the Hill’s Harper Neidig suggested it could be Manafort, Papadopoulos or even ex-Trump campaign chief executive Steve Bannon who “might win clemency in the President’s final weeks in office.”
- Paul Manafort
Manafort, who spent just two months as chairman of Trump’s 2016 election campaign, was indicted at the request of Robert Mueller on multiple tax fraud and federal bank charges, as well as for making misleading statements and engaging in conspiracy.
After he received his sentencing in Washington in March 2019, the Manhattan District Attorney filed similar mortgage fraud charges against him, this time coming from the state, an effort that was regarded by many as an attempt to hold back the presidential “pardon” power that could be implemented only in relation to federal crimes. The New York state charges were later dismissed by Justice Maxwell Wiley.
Back in 2018, Trump said that pardoning Manafort, who has recently been moved from prison to serve the rest of his seven-and-half-year sentence under a home confinement because of COVID-19 concerns, was “never discussed” but still was not “off the table”.
- Rick Gates
Trump’s 2016 deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, Manafort’s long-time business associate, was also indicted in October 2017 on charges of conspiracy and making false statements in relation to Mueller’s probe. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail and a three-year probation period after pleading guilty to the charges.
This week Gates told the New York Times: “The President knows how much those of us who worked for him have suffered, and I hope he takes that into consideration if and when he grants any pardons”.
- George Papadopoulos
Former Trump campaign staffer George Papadopoulos, who was accused and found guilty of making false statements to FBI about his communications with Russian officials while advising the future US President, has been pretty vocal about his hopes of clemency.
In 2017, he agreed to co-operate with Mueller’s probe and was eventually sentenced to only 14 days in prison.
Papadopoulos, who was released from jail in December 2018, publicly said last year that there has been “much disinformation and misunderstanding” about who he was, noting that his legal team has submitted a formal request for a pardon.
- Steve Bannon
Trump’s short-lived chief strategist and vocal supporter, Steve Bannon, may be another candidate for a President’s pardon, according to US analysts. In August this year, Bannon was indicted by the Attorney for the Southern District of New York over wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies for defrauding donors from private fund-raising We Build the Wall effort. Bannon has pleaded not guilty to the charges and was later released on bail.
President Trump, however, vocally distanced himself from his former staffer, saying that he did not like the project Bannon was engaged in.
According to US media speculation, the President himself could also be up for investigation in relation to the Mueller report he has spent so much time deriding once he leaves office.
Back in 2018 Trump said on Twitter, citing “numerous legal scholars”, that he actually had an “absolute right” to pardon himself.
“But why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” Trump concluded.