Call this the least surprising “scoop” of the year, but it’s still a good get by Axios’ Jonathan Swan. It’s been clear for some time — maybe for a couple of years — that Donald Trump wanted to issue pardons to those caught up in process crimes in Robert Mueller’s special-counsel investigation. Michael Flynn is the highest profile case, and the closest figure in the Russia-gate bust to Trump himself.
The only suspense is whether Flynn wants a pardon:
President Trump has told confidants he plans to pardon his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts, two sources with direct knowledge of the discussions tell Axios.
Behind the scenes: Sources with direct knowledge of the discussions said Flynn will be part of a series of pardons that Trump issues between now and when he leaves office.
The big picture: Flynn’s pardon would be the culmination of a four-year political and legal saga that began with the FBI’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in the 2016 election.
As if to whet our appetites for Swan’s scoop, Trump retweeted this observation a few minutes ago:
Judge Sullivan was supposed to proceed "with dispatch" (in a quick and efficient way) in Gen Flynn's case.
Three months have passed since…
— Svetlana Lokhova (@RealSLokhova) November 25, 2020
That’s a fair argument. It certainly looks as though Judge Emmet Sullivan has decided to run out the clock on the Trump administration, and for good reason. A Joe Biden Department of Justice might withdraw its motion to dismiss the charges against Flynn and allow Sullivan the chance to punish Flynn to his heart’s content. This is the situation in which the appellate court left Flynn, even though the DoJ has already produced evidence of both prosecutorial and investigative misconduct in the case. That should have disqualified the prosecution of it.
The problem with accepting a pardon, even a full pardon, is that it still carries the tinge of culpability. That is why Flynn and his attorney Sidney Powell have thus far resisted the urge to ask for presidential clemency in the case. It’s far better for Flynn if the court throws out the case with prejudice, politically and legally. With the prospect of a Biden DoJ revisiting the case, however, it might be time to cut losses and secure Flynn’s freedom. Plus, a full pardon will prevent the incoming administration from taking up other charges related to Russia-gate or the Foreig Agent Registration Act, just in case they’re inclined to do so.
Flynn’s not the only one on Trump’s clemency consideration list:
Also on the potential pardon list for the outgoing president are former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, whose prison sentence Trump already commuted.
He has also publicly mused about pardoning figures ranging from anti-surveillance NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to “Tiger King” Joe Exotic.
Joe Exotic might be the perfect Trump clemency candidate on the basis of celebrity, but I suspect even Trump might have a problem releasing someone convicted of plotting the murder of an industry rival. Snowden is a likely candidate too, as it gives Trump an opportunity to offer a big “f*** you” to the intel community he repeatedly accuses of undermining his presidency. Roger Stone is a pal, so that also fits Trump’s pardon pattern (and Bill Clinton’s, for that matter).
But Paul Manafort? That seems doubtful, even if he is a pal. Manafort didn’t just get convicted of process crimes; he got convicted on a number of other more substantial crimes, all of which predate his affiliation with Trump. If Trump wants to preserve any political potential at all, he’ll leave Manafort where he is.