Wednesday 13 November 2019

Trump asks lawyers if he 'can pardon his family'

US President Donald Trump participates in a strength vial test during a 'Made in America' event on pharmaceutical glass manufacturing in the White House Photo: AP
US President Donald Trump participates in a strength vial test during a 'Made in America' event on pharmaceutical glass manufacturing in the White House Photo: AP

Carole D Leonnig

US President Donald Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the Russia probe, according to a person familiar with the effort.

Some of Mr Trump's lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S Mueller III's Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president's authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya Photo: Reuters
Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya Photo: Reuters

Mr Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon people.

A source said Mr Trump's lawyers have been discussing the president's pardoning powers among themselves.

Mr Trump's legal team declined to comment on the issue.

But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mr Mueller's investigation.

"This is not in the context of, 'I can't wait to pardon myself'," a close adviser said.

With the Russia investigation continuing to widen, Mr Trump's lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel's work.

They are actively compiling a list of Mr Mueller's alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, according to several of Mr Trump's legal advisers.

A conflict of interest is one of the possible grounds that can be cited by an attorney general to remove a special counsel from office under Justice Department regulations that set rules for the job.

The president is also irritated by the notion that Mr Mueller's probe could reach into his and his family's finances, advisers said.

Mr Trump has been fuming about the probe in recent weeks as he has been informed about the legal questions that he and his family could face.

His primary frustration centres on why allegations that his campaign co-ordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinising many years of Trump deal-making.

He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mr Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.

Mr Trump has repeatedly refused to make his tax returns public after first claiming he could not do so because he was under audit or after promising to release them after an IRS audit was completed.

All presidents since Jimmy Carter have released their tax returns.

Further adding to the challenges facing Mr Trump's outside lawyers, the team's spokesman, Mark Corallo, resigned on Thursday, according to two people familiar with his departure. Mr Corallo did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

"If you're looking at Russian collusion, the president's tax returns would be outside that investigation," said a close adviser to the president.

Jay Sekulow, one of the president's private lawyers, said in an interview that the president and his legal team are intent on making sure Mr Mueller stays within the boundaries of his assignment as special counsel. He said they will complain directly to Mr Mueller if necessary.

"The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel's office and any changes in the scope of the investigation," Mr Sekulow said. "The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there's drifting, we're going to object."

Mr Sekulow cited 'Bloomberg News' reports that Mr Mueller is scrutinising some of Mr Trump's business dealings, including with a Russian oligarch who purchased a Palm Beach mansion from Mr Trump for $95m (€81m) in 2008.

"They're talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago," Mr Sekulow said. "In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation."

The president has long called the FBI investigation into his campaign's possible co-ordination with the Russians a "witch hunt".

But now Mr Trump is coming face-to-face with a powerful investigative team that is able to study evidence of any crime it encounters in the probe - including tax fraud, lying to federal agents and interference in the investigation.

"This is Ken Starr times 1,000," said one lawyer involved in the case, referring to the independent counsel who oversaw an investigation that eventually led to House impeachment proceedings against former president Bill Clinton.

"Of course, it's going to go into his finances." (© Washington Post Syndication)

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