WASHINGTON — Amid a series of high-profile pardons and commutations by President Trump in recent months, his personal lawyers cautioned against even considering clemency for former aides under investigation by the special counsel until the inquiry was over, one of the lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said on Thursday.
Mr. Trump agreed with their advice, Mr. Giuliani said. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is investigating possible pardon offers to former aides, and Mr. Trump’s current lawyers were privately concerned that debating clemency could open him to accusations of trying to interfere with the investigation, according to two people briefed on the matter.
Mr. Giuliani said that he discussed the issue with Mr. Trump in June shortly after he commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, 63, who was serving a life sentence in prison for a nonviolent drug conviction. Her campaign for commutation drew the backing of the reality television star Kim Kardashian West, who met with the president to advocate on Ms. Johnson’s behalf.
“I went to see him and I said, ‘I have all these questions in the press about pardons. What I’d like to say is, “Nobody is going to get pardoned during the investigation,”’” Mr. Giuliani said, adding that he reassured the president that his power to pardon was not in jeopardy.
Mr. Trump agreed with his assessment, Mr. Giuliani added. “As far as I know, he hasn’t changed his mind,” he said, adding that granting pardons to former aides convicted in the Russia investigation would be politically imprudent.
Mr. Giuliani had said in an interview on Wednesday that he and Mr. Trump had discussed the political fallout should the president grant a pardon to Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman who was convicted of financial fraud this week, adding that one was not under consideration. Mr. Giuliani told The Washington Post earlier on Thursday that the president had asked his lawyers for their advice on pardoning Mr. Manafort, though Mr. Giuliani characterized the discussions to The New York Times as instigated by the lawyers, not the president.
By signaling that he might eventually consider pardoning him, Mr. Trump could alter the legal calculations of Mr. Manafort, who faces a second trial next month in Washington. If Mr. Manafort were to count on a pardon, he could choose to endure the sentencing and second trial, rather than cooperate with the special counsel, though it is not clear Mr. Manafort has anything to offer investigators.
But the discussions with his lawyers also open Mr. Trump to accusations that he is trying to tamper with Mr. Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference and whether any Trump associates conspired with it. Mr. Mueller wants to ask Mr. Trump about pardons, according to questions that the president’s lawyers compiled from discussions with the special counsel’s office.
Last year, John Dowd, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, broached the possibility of pardons with lawyers for Mr. Manafort and for Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. At the time, the special counsel was building cases against both men, and Mr. Dowd’s discussions with their lawyers raised the prospect that he was trying to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate with investigators.
Mr. Dowd has denied having those conversations. Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty in December to lying to investigators and agreed to help Mr. Mueller’s inquiry.
Mr. Giuliani’s revelations came in a chaotic, and potentially damaging, week for Mr. Trump. On Tuesday, Mr. Manafort, 69, was convicted on financial fraud charges and faces a long prison sentence. Within minutes on that same day, Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, pleaded guilty to making an illegal payment to a woman at Mr. Trump’s behest that violated campaign finance laws. Mr. Cohen, who has said that he wants to help investigators, could agree to cooperate with the government to reduce his sentence.
Mr. Trump complained in an interview broadcast Thursday on Fox News that “it almost ought to be illegal” to cooperate with the government, adding that “campaign violations are considered not a big deal, frankly.”
Mr. Trump also said Attorney General Jeff Sessions “never took control” of the Justice Department and that Mr. Manafort was “brave.”
“One of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is he went through that trial,” Mr. Trump said.