One of Donald Trump’s lawyers discussed the possibility of presidential pardons for two former aides as the special counsel Robert Mueller built cases against them in his investigation into Russian election meddling, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, eventually made a deal with Mueller, pleading guilty to lying to the FBI in exchange for cooperation. Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, maintains his innocence on charges including money laundering and tax and bank fraud.
Two other former Trump advisers, the foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos and Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, have entered plea deals.
The Times said John Dowd, who resigned as head of Trump’s legal team last week, discussed potential pardons with lawyers representing Flynn and Manafort.
Such discussions could raise questions regarding the obstruction of justice, the paper said, although it said there was no evidence Dowd had broached the subject with Trump.
Citing three anonymous sources, the Times also said Trump had asked aides about the extent of his pardoning power.
A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment. The White House denied the report. Dowd told the Times: “There were no discussions. Period. As far as I know, no discussions.”
At the daily press briefing, the White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders repeatedly referred to a statement from Trump’s attorney Ty Cobb.
“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,” Cobb told the Times.
Dowd resigned shortly after calling for the Mueller investigation to be shut down and having to clarify that he was not speaking for the president.
Sanders said she was not “aware of any specific actions” Dowd may have taken that may have displeased the president. Trump has struggled to appoint new lawyers to his team dealing with the Mueller inquiry.
Sanders also repeated Trump’s denial of collusion with Russia in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 election in his favour.
It has been reported that Mueller, who has also indicted 13 Russian nationals, is concentrating on whether Trump has attempted to obstruct justice.
Mueller was appointed after Trump fired James Comey as director of the FBI, a move the president told NBC was made in part because of “this Russia thing” and which Comey has testified came after the president pressed him to drop an investigation of Flynn.
Mueller is also reported to be interested in the president’s role in drafting a misleading statement about a meeting between aides including Donald Trump Jr, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Manafort, and Russians promising compromising information on Hillary Clinton at Trump Tower in June 2016.
On Wednesday afternoon George Conway, the husband of Trump’s aide Kellyanne Conway who was considered for the role of solicitor general, said of the Times story: “This is flabbergasting.”