Ari Melber interviewed former U.S. Acting Solicitor General, Neal Katyal about the latest revelations that Donald Trump's former lawyer, John Dowd, may have been discussing offering pre-emptive pardons to Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn way back in the summer of 2017. Could this fall under the crime of "conspiracy" even if the pardons were not issued?
MELBER: Your view of, number one, the significance of this report as it's alleged in the New York Times and, number two, whether it is potentially a way that John Dowd was trying to evade where Mueller was headed.
KATYAL: Yeah, it's significant both for President* Trump personally as well as more generally for the investigation for President* Trump. I guess you have to ask why is it that the President's* lawyer dangling out pardons last summer to two people, Flynn and Manafort, who aren't just like any ordinary criminals. These are his top advisers - hit stop national security official and his top campaign chair and they're accused of conspiring with the Russians and Trump is now offering, through his lawyer, a set of pardons. Why is he doing that? So that's the first thing you have to think about then the second is, does this create additional legal liability both for Trump and now for Trump's lawyer, Dowd, because you know one or the other of them had this kind of nutty idea that they should offer up witnesses in a federal criminal investigation they offer up apartment, you know that's mind blowingly stupid.
MELBER: You say "offer that up" and of course John Dowd has left, which means there's no actual criminal defense attorney specialists left on this team, who is left is Jay Sekulow, known for perfectly able lawyering, but in other areas. Here he was previously knocking down this kind of question about pardons.
(clip of Sekulow from July 2017, angrily denying that pardons were ever mentioned)
MELBER: Could you explain to us and our viewers why is that the legal team and the White House feel the need to say there are''t even discussing pardons while at the same time, Trump's most ardent allies say 'well this is a lawful power, he could do it if he wanted'?
KATYAL: Well, accuracy has not exactly been the strong suit of this White House, so I think this just follows in with so much else an I think that you the President's* defenders are now saying 'well, he has the absolute right to pardon, so it can't be a crime, it can't be obstruction of justice' but I think that really misses the boat. I mean, sure the President* has the power to pardon, just like I got the right to burn my laptop and set it on fire, but I don't have the right to set my laptop on fire if I know the cops are coming for it. That is obstruction. Same thing here. You don't go and tell a witness who is possibly going to testify against you 'oh, well I'll give you a pardon, don't worry about this'. As criminal defense lawyers, one of the first thing any smart lawyer would do to any of their clients is to say 'hey, don't talk to any witnesses...don't even say hello to them on the street, let alone something like offering up a pardon, a massive get-out-of-jail free card.
So, Dowd may now be part of the criminal investigation himself. If he acted alone, if could be obstruction. If he acted on Trump's behalf, it may rise to the level of conspiracy. Oh, and what about the forthcoming "well, the pardons were never issued" defense? Yeah, that doesn't matter.