Democratic senators issued a warning to President Donald Trump about exercising his pardoning powers on two of his top former aides, 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime attorney Michael Cohen: You don’t want to go there.
Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts of campaign finance, bank fraud and tax fraud and directly implicated the president for directing him to commit a crime in a New York courtroom Tuesday.
Within minutes, roughly 200 miles south at a federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, Manafort was found guilty on eight charges of tax evasion and bank fraud after a three-week jury trial.
Democratic senators cautioned Trump that pardoning one or both of his former aides would beg serious consequences, thought it’s unclear what kind of material threat they could mount without Republican support.
“Any attempt by the President to pardon Mr. Manafort or interfere in the investigation into his campaign would be a gross abuse of power and require immediate action by Congress,” Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner said in a statement Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York was even more vague in his warning to the president, who has shown no aversion to issuing politically charged pardons and claimed last July he had the power to pardon even himself.
“My message to the president: you better not talk about pardons for Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort tonight, or anytime in the future,” Schumer wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
My message to the president: you better not talk about pardons for Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort tonight, or anytime in the future.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) August 21, 2018
At a campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, Tuesday evening, Trump called the Manafort decision “a very sad thing.”
But he also tried to distance himself from the actions for which Manafort was convicted.
“Doesn’t involve me,” Trump told reporters. “This has nothing to do what they started out, looking for Russians involved in our campaign. There were none.”
Republicans shied away Tuesday from commenting on the possibility of Trump pardoning his former associates.
Some Democratic senators have said that if Trump were to pardon Manafort, Cohen or any other former associate the special counsel brings down, that would represent weakness, not power.
“He would be screaming to the world ‘I am guilty,’” Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told CNN on Tuesday.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, alluded to possible impeachment over such a move.
“Any effort to pardon Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort in and of itself would be a gross assault on the rule of law, and constitute high crimes and misdemeanors,” Wyden said, quoting the prerequisite for impeachment in Section 4, Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution.
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