We’re a long way from anyone being charged in the Justice Department investigation into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. But the Washington Post and the New York Times reported Thursday night that President Trump’s legal team is already looking into Trump’s options to pardon himself and those close to him — and how to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller and his legal team.
A president pardoning close aides and family members in an ongoing investigation, therefore shielding them from federal charges or consequences, would be unprecedented. But Trump has never shied away from the unprecedented before. If he does this, it could set up the US constitutional system for a huge test, as Vox’s Andrew Prokop writes.
Details of the investigation, and the Trump administration’s reaction to it, continue to leak. Here’s what we learned Thursday night.
Trump is exploring pardon options for himself and family members
Mueller’s original task was to investigate the extent of Russia’s meddling in the 2016, and whether anyone on the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Russian government in the process.
But the scope of the investigation has since widened to include whether Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey. And according to new reports from Bloomberg this week, Mueller is also looking at Trump’s business dealings with Russians over the years and seeking financial records from the Trump empire.
FBI investigators are reportedly examining Russia-related transactions including Trump selling a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and other real estate dealings with Russians over the years.
Trump is furious that the special investigation could include probes into his and his family’s business empire, and according to reporting from Post and the Times, he is already exploring whether he can pardon his associates, his family members, and himself.
Can he even do that? Yes. Presidents are given very broad powers to pardon people who have committed federal crimes, or crimes in Washington. Case in point: when President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon after Watergate.
Trump’s lawyers are building a case to fire special counsel Robert Mueller
The Washington Post and the New York Times also reported that Trump’s lawyers are trying to build a case that Mueller and members of his team have conflicts of interest, which could serve as a excuse to oust Mueller: Department of Justice rules mean special counsels must be conflict-free.
But Trump’s legal team isn’t just looking at potential conflicts with Mueller; they’re scouring his entire team for dirt. Mueller has assembled a formidable team including a former Watergate prosecutor and a former deputy solicitor general. And Trump allies have already made noise about the fact that three members of Mueller’s team donated to Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton.
These facts alone won’t be enough to disqualify investigators; Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has already told senators that giving to political candidates isn’t grounds to kick someone off the Russia investigation.
Beyond political donations, Trump’s team is also looking at past clients represented by the Russia investigators and examining the relationship between Mueller and Comey.
Members of Trump’s legal team are resigning
Meanwhile, Trump’s former personal attorney Marc Kasowitz, who has represented Trump since 2000, has departed from Trump’s legal team after it was revealed that he sent a string of threatening, profanity-laced emails to a stranger who criticized him. Kasowitz’s spokesperson Mark Corallo has also resigned.
Trump’s legal defense team is now composed of Ty Cobb, Jay Sekulow, and John Dowd. Sekulow serves as chief counsel at the socially conservative American Center for Law and Justice, and has argued religious liberty and anti-abortion cases in front of the US Supreme Court. He’s also a frequent contributor on Fox News.
Dowd is a DC lawyer who’s best known for investigating former Cincinnati Reds player and manager Pete Rose on gambling charges.
Cobb, the newest member of Trump team, is a former federal prosecutor and white-collar defense lawyer. Unlike other lawyers working for Trump, he’s been hired as in-house White House counsel, so his salary is being paid by US taxpayers.