How Trump could pardon trio arrested in special counsel's probe

Pardoning these men could cut both ways for Trump.

Shortly thereafter, it was announced that George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign, had pleaded guilty to misleading investigators about Russia contacts earlier this year.

So can Trump pardon the men? The answer is yes, he can pardon them at any time for all federal crimes, but not for potential state crimes. And Trump could do so immediately, without waiting for a potential conviction.

But pardoning these men could cut both ways for the president.

On the one hand, to cripple Mueller’s investigation -- which Trump has called a “witch hunt” -- Trump could strip Mueller of a key bargaining chip: a potential offer of immunity to these men in exchange for cooperation. If pardoned, Manafort and Gates could have less incentive to turn on others to save themselves. Also, “a pardon could cut off some aspects of the investigation,” explained Harold Krent, dean of the Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology, because Mueller’s team might stop pursuing those men’s cases even though they might have led to other useful findings.

Krent added that “theoretically, a pardon could also open Trump up to an obstruction of justice claim.”

If Trump pardoned Manafort or Gates before any conviction, they would not have to admit wrongdoing but they would have to formally “accept the pardon.”

It’s still an open legal question whether Trump could ever pardon himself, which would be unprecedented.