WASHINGTON — One of President Donald Trump's lawyers raised the possibility of pardons during discussions with the attorneys for former top advisers Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort last year, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing three people with knowledge of the talks.
According to The Times, the lawyer, John Dowd, raised the topic of pardons as special counsel Robert Mueller was building a case against Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser, and Manafort, the former chair of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, in the ongoing Russia probe.
By dangling the possibility of a pardon, Dowd's reported actions would raise questions about his motivation and whether he sought to influence the way Manafort and Flynn reacted to the special counsel’s requests that they assist the investigation. Dowd left Trump's legal team last week.
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The White House and Trump attorney Ty Cobb pushed back on The Times' report Wednesday, saying that at present, there are no discussions about pardoning members of Trump's orbit who have been implicated in the Mueller probe.
"I have only been asked about pardons by the press and have routinely responded on the record that no pardons are under discussion or under consideration at the White House," Cobb told NBC News.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that to her knowledge, the idea of pardoning Flynn and Manafort hasn't come up.
"The President has the authority to pardon individuals but you’re asking me about a specific case in which it hasn’t been discussed," she said in a briefing that brought repeated questions — and few clear answers — regarding talk of pardons at the White House and by the president's lawyers.
Both Flynn, Manafort and one of Manafort's top deputies, Rick Gates, have been indicted in Mueller's ongoing probe into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as meddling by the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and Gates has pleaded guilty to fraud and lying to investigators. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and fraud stemming from his lucrative lobbying work in Ukraine, as well as tax and bank fraud charges.
Trump himself didn't close the door on possibly pardoning his former national security adviser last year.
Asked in December about a pardon for Flynn, told reporters he didn't "want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens."
CORRECTION (March 28, 2018, 8:48 p.m. ET): The headline with an earlier version of this article misidentified one of the two former White House aides for whom President Donald Trump's lawyer reportedly discussed seeking a pardon. The former adviser is Michael Flynn, not Rick Gates.