The Russia Connection

The Report, Episode Thirteen: Pardons On The Table

By Susan Hennessey, Benjamin Wittes
Friday, October 25, 2019, 12:27 PM

Today, we released the thirteenth episode of Lawfare’s narrative audio documentary, The Report, which recounts the story Robert Mueller lays out in his 448-page report.

This episode details President Trump’s reactions to the indictments of a few of his close associates. Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Roger Stone find themselves in legal trouble and the president is worried that they will cooperate with investigators. As his former aides contemplate whether to cooperate, the president begins a campaign through public comments and private outreach to convince them that, just maybe, he might be able to help them out. In thinly-veiled remarks to the press and messages through his lawyer, the president teases out the possibility of pardons for the men; if they stay loyal, he will “take care” of them. The Special Counsel reaches varying conclusions about whether different behavior by the president toward his aides constitutes obstruction of justice, but Mueller suggests that some of the president’s conduct meets all the elements of obstruction.

The first seven episodes of The Report unpack Volume I; they tell the story of Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign’s interaction and involvement with those efforts. Episode 1 covers the Russian social media operation and the activities of the Internet Research Agency. Episode 2 focuses on the Russian hacking campaign; the stealing of documents and emails from the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and figures associated with the Clinton campaign; and the leaks of stolen materials timed to affect the U.S. election. Episode 3 covers the Trump campaign’s involvement in the distribution of hacked materials. Episode 4 tells the story of Trump Tower Moscow, which Donald Trump sought to build even as he was denying having any business in Russia, and Trump Tower New York, where Russian representatives showed up promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Episode 5 recounts the stories of three men associated with the Trump campaign and their various ties to Russia: George Papadopoulos, Carter Page and Paul Manafort. Episode 6 details backchannel attempts by the Russians to influence the Trump campaign and transition team on policy matters—an effort to reboot U.S.-Russia relations one secret meeting at a time. Episode 7 covers the special counsel’s charging decisions—which individuals Mueller decides to prosecute, whose prosecutions he declines, and the reasons for his decisions.

We turned to Volume II in Episode 8, which offers the necessary legal and factual context to understand this second half of the report on possibly obstructive activity: Why was President Trump nervous about an investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russia? What is obstruction of justice? Episode 9 details national security adviser Flynn’s lie to federal investigators about his phone call with the Russian ambassador and the White House response to learning of that lie. Episode 9 also charts the president’s turbulent relationship with FBI Director James Comey, which led the two men to a fateful Oval Office encounter. Episode 10 covers Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse from the Russia investigation, Trump’s reaction to the recusal, and the sudden firing of Comey. Episode 11 explains Trump’s furious reaction to the news of Mueller’s appointment and the development that the president was now personally under investigation. Episode 12 shows Trump’s attempts to cover up two damaging stories: one revealing his son’s troubling exchange with a Russian lawyer and one detailing the president’s demand to Don McGahn that he get rid of Mueller.

This episode covers the President’s numerous attempts to stop his imperiled former aides from cooperating with Mueller’s team. As President, Trump has a unique weapon in his arsenal: the pardon power. Through private overtures from his lawyer and a collection of curious public comments, Trump tries to signal to his old friends: if you stay quiet, there might just be a pardon waiting for you. The President’s efforts fails with Flynn, but the President remains ambivalently supportive of his former National Security Advisor. His former campaign manager Paul Manafort is also in big trouble and Manafort says the president’s lawyers told him that Trump would “take care” of him. During Manafort’s trial, with the help of Rudy Giuliani, the president begins a public campaign about the “unfair” treatment of Manafort. And there’s another witness Trump tries to sway—the defendant’s name is redacted, but it is almost certainly former campaign aide Roger Stone. Lots of his friends are in hot water, and Trump wants to get his hands on the scale of justice.

The Report has now surpassed two million downloads. We hope you’ll continue to subscribe, rate and share it widely.

We are grateful to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Democracy Fund for their support for this project. If you want to support work of this type at Lawfare, please consider becoming a monthly donor by clicking here: