Corruption. Conspiracy. Obstruction of justice. Campaign finance violations. Making false statements.
What do all these things have in common?
Not only are they crimes U.S. President Donald Trump has pardoned or hinted at pardoning, they’re also areas of Special Counsel Robert Mueller III‘s probe into meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has dubbed the investigation a “witch hunt,” but a U.S. law professor suggests there is more than a coincidental link between Trump’s pardons and the scope of the Mueller probe.
“It’s not hard to connect the dots,” Jed Shugerman, a professor of law at Fordham Univerity, told Global News on Friday.
Shugerman is the co-author of a new paper suggesting a legal case could theoretically be made to invalidate Trump’s pardons, on the grounds that they might be motivated by self-preservation.
“He is sending a signal with his use of the pardon power to encourage other potential Russia probe defendants to stay silent,” Shugerman said.
Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each waited over two years before issuing their first presidential pardons, but Trump has already handed out his fifth, while hinting at more in the near future.
Shugerman says the charges Trump has pardoned read like a laundry list of those the president and his close associates might face, if the Mueller investigation turns up enough information to merit it.
“If you’re looking one-by-one, it’s remarkable how close they are,” Shugerman said.
Trump’s pardons so far include:
- Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio (contempt of court);
- Navy sailor Kristian Saucier (unauthorized retention of defence information);
- Scooter Libby (obstruction of justice, false statements and two counts of perjury);
- African-American boxer Jack Johnson (violation of the white slave traffic act for crossing a state border with a white woman); and
- conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza (illegal campaign contributions).
Among those charged in the Mueller probe are:
- Former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos (pleaded guilty to making false statements);
- Former campaign chair Paul Manafort (conspiracy, money laundering, making false statements and various financial fraud charges);
- Former campaign aide Rick Gates (pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiracy); and
- Michael Flynn (pleaded guilty to making false statements).
Shugerman says Trump’s pardons may be laying the groundwork for him to pardon people involved in the Mueller case, now or in the future.
‘Trolling’ with Dinesh D’Souza
Trump announced his pardon for Dinesh D’Souza on Twitter Thursday, saying the conservative commentator had been “treated very unfairly by our government!”
D’Souza pleaded guilty in 2014 to making illegal campaign contributions in connection with a US$20,000 payment to Republican Senate candidate Wendy Long’s campaign.
Shugerman says it’s not much of a leap to compare D’Souza’s case to the potential one against Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer.
Mueller’s team is currently investigating Cohen, over possible illegal campaign contributions in connection with a US$130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
Shugerman suggests Trump is also “trolling the left” with the D’Souza pardon, as he is a well-known Fox News pundit and political agitator.
D’Souza has espoused a variety of conspiracy theories and made several racist remarks about Barack Obama. He mocked survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., earlier this year.
Trump issued his first pardon last August for Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who was convicted of content of court.
Arpaio was found guilty of defying a court order instructing him not to detain suspected undocumented immigrants.
“He kept America safe!” Trump tweeted last August, in announcing the pardon.
“Those two people are particularly controversial and meant to be controversial,” Shugerman said of D’Souza and Arpaio.
Democratic Representative Don Beyer echoed that notion on Twitter Thursday.
“As with the pardon of Joe Arpaio, Trump is sending a message that he will reward political allies for loyalty with get-out-of-jail-free cards,” Beyer tweeted.
“He doesn’t care about the rule of law.”
Trump hinted on Thursday he might pardon lifestyle guru Martha Stewart and commute the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for several corruption and bribery crimes.
Both Stewart and Blagojevich appeared on episodes of Trump’s television show, “The Apprentice.” They also have ties to James Comey, the former FBI director whom Trump fired over the Russia investigation.
Stewart was convicted in an investigation authorized by Comey, while Blagojevich was arrested and charged by former U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who has a long history with Comey and now serves as his lawyer.
Fitzgerald was also the special counsel in the case that brought down Scooter Libby, the former top White House aide whom Trump pardoned earlier this year.
“It’s almost like a lawyer gave President Trump a potential list of crimes he or his family might be convicted of, and he went down a list to pardon people who were convicted of those same crimes,” Shugerman said.
He adds that it would not be unusual for Trump to pardon Stewart and Blagojevich, because the president has shown a penchant for listening to celebrities in this matter.
“This is basically a reboot of ‘Celebrity Apprentice: Pardon Edition,'” Shugerman said.
Actor Sylvester Stallone played a prominent role in securing a pardon for the late Jack Johnson, and was present alongside Trump at the White House for the announcement.
WATCH BELOW: Trump pardons boxer Jack Johnson
More recently, Kim Kardashian West paid a visit to the West Wing to ask Trump to pardon a great-grandmother currently serving a life sentence.
The two posed for a photo that circulated widely on social media Thursday.
WATCH BELOW: Kim Kardashian West goes to the White House to talk pardon
Trump has not set any timeline for his next pardons, but he tends to tease them ahead of time before announcing them on Twitter.