Hanging over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation — and every other federal investigation that implicates people in President Donald Trump’s circle — is the chance that he may use his office’s pardon power to allow his allies to escape punishment for their crimes. Many, including prosecutors on Mueller’s team, believe that this possibility could have led his former Campaign Chair Paul Manafort to continue lying to the special counsel even after he entered a cooperation agreement.
But new reports Friday suggest that District Attorney Cy Vance in Manhattan has a plan to undermine any attempt by Trump to pardon Manafort.
According to Bloomberg News and the New York Times, Vance is preparing to bring state charges against Manafort in the event that the president nullifies his prosecution. The president has no authority to pardon state crimes.
At the state level, Vance is preparing an array of criminal charges. While their full extent isn’t clear, they would include evasion of New York taxes and violations of state laws requiring companies to keep accurate books and records, according to one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation is confidential.
However, this approach would pose some challenges. Legal experts believe it may violate the principle of double jeopardy — the idea that people cannot be charged and tried for the same crimes more than once — if Vance were to simply replicate Mueller’s charges as state crimes.
According to the Times, though, “prosecutors in Mr. Vance’s office have expressed confidence that they would prevail, people with knowledge of the matter said.”
Even if Manafort does expect a pardon from Trump, it’s far from certain he’ll get one. Attempting to pardon him could potentially trigger a backlash in Congress, though how severe it would actually be is debatable, and it could hurt his reelection chances.
If Trump fears these outcomes, he may simply wait until after the 2020 election to issue the pardon, particularly if he loses.
Yet simply the existence of reports that prosecutors are planning to subvert the pardon could sap it of its force. Assuming Trump wants Manafort to think he’ll get a pardon as long as he stays quiet about the Russia investigation or other matters, this news could make the former campaign chair realize that gambling on a pardon is a futile bet. With this in mind, he may finally start cooperating with prosecutors in earnest.
IMAGE: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts