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Trump hasn't ruled out pardons for some campaign aides

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on March

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on March 20 before leaving the White House in Washington.  Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has not ruled out the possibility of pardoning his former campaign aides indicted under the special counsel’s Russia probe, amid calls from conservative activists urging Trump to issue a new wave of presidential pardons.

Trump, in a nearly 45-minute phone interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, avoided giving a definitive answer when asked if he would consider pardoning his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

“Many, many people were in­cred­ibly hurt by this whole scam.” Trump said of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation into Russia’s election interference that concluded last Friday. “I don’t want to talk about pardons now, but I can say it’s so sad on so many levels.”

On Monday, when asked if he was weighing pardons, Trump told reporters at the White House: “Haven’t thought about it.”

Attorney General William Barr, in a 4-page summary of Mueller's report, told lawmakers last Sunday that the probe did not turn up evidence that Trump conspired or coordinated with the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. Barr also said there was insufficient evidence to prove that Trump sought to obstruct the Russia probe, making the determination after Mueller stopped short of issuing a conclusion on the question of obstruction of justice.

Mueller's probe did expose multiple attempts by Russia to influence the election by hacking Democratic campaign emails and by manipulating social media, and resulted in the indictment of more than a dozen Russian operatives and three Russian businesses on charges of computer hacking and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Among those indicted by Mueller were Flynn, who pleaded guilty to charges he lied to investigators about his contacts with Russia; Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the campaign who pleaded guilty to charges he lied about his contacts with a Kremlin-connected operative and Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, who was sentenced to 7½ years in prison for a series of financial crimes.

Papadopoulos on Tuesday told Fox News his lawyers had formally applied for a pardon and were weighing the prospect of withdrawing his guilty plea.

"If it's granted, I would be honored to accept it," Papadopoulous said.

On social media, conservative activists have amplified their calls for Trump to pardon those indicted by Mueller, including former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, who was arrested on charges that he lied to congressional investigators about his communications with WikiLeaks regarding the publication of emails hacked and stolen from the Hillary Clinton campaign. Stone has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

"Pardon General Flynn, Roger Stone and George Papadopoulos. Immediately," tweeted Conservative activist Jack Posobiec.

Conservative commentator Mike Cernovich issued a similar missive: “Pardon General Flynn immediately.”

Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani told “PBS NewsHour” on Monday that the president “is not going to consider pardons. He’s not gonna give any pardons.”

“If that happens, it has to happen in the future, but nobody has any promise of it, nobody should assume it,” Giuliani said. “Obviously he has the power to do it, but I have no reason to believe he's going to exercise it.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Monday, urged the president against rushing to pardon his former aides.

"I think for President Trump to pardon anyone in his orbit, it would not play well," Graham said.

House Democrats, in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on presidential pardons held Wednesday, raised concerns that Trump would move to pardon his former allies, noting his past pardons of Republican Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a longtime Trump supporter who was convicted of criminal contempt, conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza who was convicted on a campaign finance violation charge and Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, who was convicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the committee said Trump “has created the perception that pardons are a political tool, a publicity stunt to curry favor with the public, and a favor to bestow on the well-connected.”

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