One of the last official acts John Dowd performed as head of Donald Trump’s legal team before resigning last week was discussing with lawyers potential pardons for disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chair, Paul Manafort.
Even though Dowd may not have discussed the matter with the president, his action raises new questions about obstruction of justice.
And, as the New York Times reports, Trump has been inquiring of aides about his pardoning power.
John Dowd resigned after calling for an end to special council Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Since then, Trump has experienced difficulty finding a replacement.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, former Watergate prosecutor, Nick Akerman, insisted Dowd considering granting pardons to Flynn and Manafort “is obstruction of justice,” claiming Dowd possessed “corrupt” intent when he was offering a pardon.
“This is obstruction of justice. You can do legal actions that can amount to an obstruction. I’ll give you an example. As a defense lawyer, I can advise a client to take the Fifth Amendment. However, if my advice is given because I don’t want my client to rat me out and point the finger at me for having committed a crime, then I have the corrupt intent to impede, influence and undermine the investigation and I would be guilty of obstruction of justice for doing an innocent act which would normally be an innocent act of advising a client, because what’s in my head – my intent is corrupt.”
According to Akerman, even if Trump has the legal authority to issue pardons, his intent is what matters.
Michael Flynn agreed to a plea deal in November.
Last month, former Trump deputy campaign manager Richard Gates became the third Trump associate to strike a deal with Mueller’s legal team, pleading guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI— even while he was negotiating a deal with Mueller.
In a statement of offense accompanying his plea agreement, Gates admitted he conspired with Manafort “in a variety of criminal schemes,” including shifting millions of dollars from offshore accounts disguised as loans, avoiding taxes.
In June, it was revealed Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, met with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya the year before to receive damaging information on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in exchange for the promise of President Trump’s easing Russian sanctions if elected.
Image credit: The New York Times