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 former campaign manager Paul Manafort, the Times reported, citing three people with knowledge of the talks.
The talks between the attorneys came as the special council in the investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 election was building a case against them.
Later Wednesday, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders deflected questions into the matter, saying no pardons are currently under discussion.
“There’s no discussion or consideration of that at this time,” Sanders said.
“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 also read a statement from White House lawyer Ty Cobb, which said, “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.”
The Times report also said Trump’s camp was floating the idea of a pardon because they were worried about what Flynn might tell counsel. The report also suggests Dowd was offering pardons to influence their decisions on whether or not to plead guilty.
When asked, Sanders maintained the White House line, saying, “There was no collusion and we’re very confident in that and look forward to this process wrapping up.”
Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia and is cooperating with Mueller’s probe.
Sanders previously said in December that she wasn’t aware of any decisions or discussions about a pardon of Flynn after Trump said he felt “very badly” for him after he entered his plea.
WATCH: White House says potential pardon for Michael Flynn not discussed
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to a barrage of charges, including bank fraud and not filing tax returns. His associate Richard Gates — who was charged at the same time as Manafort — has pleaded guilty and is working with the FBI.
Legal experts were split on whether such a discussion would amount to obstruction of justice, even if Dowd broached the idea with Trump before talking to lawyers for Manafort and Flynn — a point that the New York Times said remained unclear.
Such discussions could not constitute the crime of obstruction of justice because the president has vast power to issue pardons, according to Alan Dershowitz, an emeritus law professor at Harvard Law School.
“A president cannot commit a crime by engaging in a constitutionally protected act,” Dershowitz told Reuters.
Lisa Kern Griffin, a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at Duke University School of Law, disagreed, saying an offer to issue pardons could be obstruction of justice if it is made with the intent to impede an investigation. “One can do things one has the power to do that would otherwise be lawful, and render them unlawful by doing them with corrupt intent,” Griffin told Reuters.
With files from Reuters