Trump’s continued pardon talk brings hope to those tangled in Russia probe

PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump gestures toward journalists shouting questions as he departs the White House, May 29, 2018, in Washington.PlayWin McNamee/Getty Images
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After announcing yet another commutation Wednesday, the White House signaled that President Donald Trump is contemplating issuing even more pardons in coming days, actions that, intended or not, are stirring fresh hope among some of those entangled in the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

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“I hope he would consider it,” said Simona Mangiante, who has been appearing on cable television this week to argue that the president should pardon her husband, George Papadopoulos, who was the first former Trump campaign aide to plead guilty in the special counsel case. “I hope he will. I think it’s a legitimate expectation.”

PHOTO: Alice Marie Johnson, 63, who has been in prison for 21 years for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense, is pictured in this undated photo.Change.org, FILE
Alice Marie Johnson, 63, who has been in prison for 21 years for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense, is pictured in this undated photo.

Trump granted Wednesday’s commutation to Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old great-grandmother who has served almost 22 years in federal prison for a first-time criminal offense, a move that came after reality television star Kim Kardashian West pleaded her case in the Oval Office.

A commutation is short of a full pardon, which would wipe clean her criminal record, but it allows Johnson to be released from prison. It was the latest in a series of clemency actions Trump has announced in recent weeks.

White House officials would not identify others Trump is contemplating for clemency, saying only that he is mulling a number of names of candidates for full pardons as well as for commutations of sentences. The Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Department of Justice and the Deputy Attorney General are reviewing the applications in order to make recommendations to the president, an administration source told ABC News on Wednesday.

Papadopoulos was arrested in July and pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI. He had served Trump’s campaign as a volunteer foreign policy adviser. The Mueller team took interest in him after learning of conversations he had with a professor with substantial connections to the Russian government.

Investigators said in court filings that the professor told the campaign foreign policy aide that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”

PHOTO: George Papadopoulos married Simona Mangiante in Chicago, March 2, 2018.Obtained by ABC News
George Papadopoulos married Simona Mangiante in Chicago, March 2, 2018.

Others tied up in the Russia probe have also taken notice of Trump’s use of his executive pardon power. Roger Stone, a longtime Trump friend and political ally who has expressed concerns that the Mueller team is investigating him, said he, too, believes the president is sending a message of hope with each clemency decision.

"The pardon has symbolic as well legal importance and can serve as a check against biased or politically motivated prosecution such as that of Gen. [Michael] Flynn," Stone told ABC News.

Earlier this week, Stone told the Washington Post, “it has to be a signal to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort and even Robert S. Mueller III: Indict people for crimes that don’t pertain to Russian collusion and this is what could happen.”

A source close to Flynn — who resigned from his post as Trump’s National Security Advisor in February of 2017 and subsequently pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in the Special Counsel probe, told ABC News that his loyalists also have seen their hopes buoyed by the recent pardons.

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal court in Washington in December. Recently released memos written by James Comey revealed that Donald Trump thought Flynn had serious judgement issues.AP
Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal court in Washington in December. Recently released memos written by James Comey revealed that Donald Trump thought Flynn "had serious judgement issues."

“A pardon would be welcome and embraced, of course. But given the amount of apparent exculpatory evidence that has come to light since his plea deal, a full exoneration seems even more appropriate,” the source close to Flynn told ABC News.

Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman, faces a range of charges on tax and financial crimes. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. He could not be reached for comment on the potential for a pardon.

Papadopoulos’ wife Mangiante, who has been speaking publicly since December, has been on something of a media blitz this week, including interviews with conservative media outlets known to be popular with the president.

“I trust and hope and ask to President Trump to pardon him,” Mangiante said Monday night in an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson.

She told ABC News she believed her husband would be a strong candidate for presidential lenience even before Trump began issuing a series of pardons that has included Trump’s decision last week to pardon conservative agitator Dinesh D’Souza. Since the president took office, he has also issued pardons for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, former vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby, and, posthumously, the legendary African American boxer Jack Johnson.

“He always had dedication to the Trump campaign,” Mangiante said. “I never heard him saying anything bad about him [Trump], ever.”

Last year, Mangiante told ABC News she believed her husband would ultimately prove to be a crucial witness for prosecutors as they sought to build a case that Russian agents colluded with the Trump campaign to try and influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

“He’s already on the right side of history,” she told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos. “I think he will make a big difference.”

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told ABC News on Sunday he did not think anyone should read too much into the president’s pardons.

“These are so different than the cases he’s involved in,” he said.

Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor and ABC News contributor, said he also thought it would be a stretch to read too much into Trump’s pardon decisions.

“This is a president who's not a lawyer, who's never held executive position before. When he sees what he [believes to] be an injustice, he wants to fix it immediately. That's Donald Trump's personality,” said Christie, a Republican who once advised Trump.

Stone has not talked with Trump about his own circumstances. In recent weeks, investigators with the Special Counsel’s office have interviewed several of Stone’s former aides and contacts, asking about his knowledge of the Clinton emails believed to have been hacked by Russians. Stone has repeatedly voiced his innocence, but also expressed concern that Mueller is pursuing him.

Stone told ABC News he has only had once communicated directly with Trump about pardons, and it had nothing to do with the Russia investigation.

“I wrote him a letter advocating a pardon for Marcus Garvey last year,” he said. “Otherwise we have never discussed it.”

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