Trump-proof aspects of Manafort deal rankle lawyers

Source: Politico | September 18, 2018 | Josh Gerstein

Robert Mueller seems to have built in safeguards to discourage the president from pardoning Manafort.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s plea agreement with Paul Manafort on Friday took unusual and possibly unprecedented steps to undercut President Donald Trump’s ability to pardon his former campaign chairman.

The plea deal Mueller struck with Manafort contains several provisions that appear intended to discourage the former Trump aide from seeking a pardon and to rein in the impact of any pardon Trump might grant.

Legal experts with sweeping views of executive power and attorneys who advocate for broad use of clemency criticized what they call an effort by Mueller’s team to tie the president’s hands.

“What is most concerning to me is that Mr. Mueller, who is a part of the executive branch and is supposed to follow all of DOJ’s policies and procedures, is specifically seeking to impede the ability of the president to exercise his constitutional pardon authority,” said David Rivkin, a Justice Department official under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

“These waivers are troubling because they have to do with future events we can’t predict,” University of St. Thomas law professor Mark Osler said, referring to provisions in the plea deal. “They did a pretty good job hiding what they did, but as part of these agreements, sometimes the most important things you want to bury it a little.”

The 17-page deal doesn’t explicitly prohibit Manafort from seeking a pardon, but some lawyers said it appears to extract a promise from Manafort not to seek another form of executive clemency that could relieve him of the obligation to turn over property worth tens of millions of dollars to the government as part of the plea bargain. The agreement also says prosecutors can come after the five identified homes or apartments, three bank accounts and a life insurance policy now or at any point in the future “without regard to the status of his criminal conviction.”

Another part of the deal says that if Manafort’s guilty pleas or convictions are wiped out for any reason, prosecutors immediately have the right to charge him with any other crimes he may have committed previously or confessed to during recent plea negotiations.

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