WASHINGTON, March 28 (Reuters) - An attorney for President Donald Trump raised the idea of the U.S. leader pardoning two of his former top advisers last year as the special counsel in the Russia probe was building a case against them, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
John Dowd, who was Trump's lead lawyer in the special counsel investigation until he resigned last week, broached the issue in discussions with attorneys for former national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign manager Paul Manafort, the Times reported, citing three people with knowledge of the talks.
According to the newspaper, the discussions raise questions about whether Dowd was using the issue of pardons to influence their decision about whether to plead guilty and cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.
Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. Manafort was charged with money laundering and acting as an unregistered agent of Ukraine's former pro-Russian government. He is fighting the charges.
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The close friend to Donald Trump and CEO of private equity firm Colony Capital recommended that Trump bring in Paul Manafort for his presidential campaign.
R. James Woolsey
Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has cooperated with Mueller's investigation and worked with Michael Flynn and was present at a meeting where they discussed removing the controversial Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen from US soil.
(Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The former senior Trump campaign official and White House adviser was present and crucial during the firings of Michael Flynn and James Comey.
The former head of the Trump transition team following the 2016 election has said previously that he believes he was fired due to his opposing the hiring of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.
Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.
Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.
Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.
2016 election winner Donald Trump is at the center of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's handlings.
Clovis, a former member of the Trump campaign, arrives on at the U.S. Capitol December 12, 2017 to appear before a closed meeting of the House Intelligence Committee. Clovis worked with George Papadopoulos, a former Donald Trump campaign foreign policy advisor who struck a plea deal on charges of lying to the FBI.
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”
Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.
Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.
Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo (L)
Caputo waves goodbye to reporters after he testified before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed-door session at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Caputo resigned from being a Trump campaign communications advisor after appearing to celebrate the firing of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Denying any contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, Caputo did live in Moscow during the 1990s, served as an adviser to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and did pro-Putin public relations work for the Russian conglomerate Gazprom Media.
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Stephen Miller, White House Senior Advisor for Policy
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
Donald Trump Jr.
White House Senior adviser Jared Kushner
Executive assistant to Donald Trump Rhona Graff
White House Communications Director Hope Hicks
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski
US Vice President Mike Pence
Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci
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The discussions between Dowd and lawyers for Manafort and Flynn indicated Trump's legal team was concerned about what the two former aides would reveal if they cut a deal with Mueller in exchange for leniency, according to the newspaper.
Dowd denied to the Times that he discussed pardons with lawyers for the president’s former advisers. He did not immediately return a request for comment from Reuters.
"(White House counsel) Ty Cobb is the person that would be most directly involved in this and he's got a statement on the record saying that there's no discussion and there's no consideration of those at this time at the White House," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told a briefing on Wednesday. (Reporting by David Alexander Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)