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 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)