One of the biggest open-ended questions of Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is whether or not President Donald Trump will pardon those former aides and advisors already ensnared by the Special Counsel’s office. It’s a real possibility Trump himself has hinted at, saying in a November, 2018 interview that when it comes to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, “I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?”
Given, then, that the biggest fish netted by Mueller’s team might very well find himself a free man despite facing decades in prison after he was convicted of a host of crimes, prosecutors in New York state are reportedly preparing a contingency plan to ensure Manafort might still end up behind bars—even if Trump issues a pardon.
Citing “two people familiar with the matter,” Bloomberg News reported on Friday that New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is readying charges against Manafort for a number of crimes, including tax evasion and failure to comply with laws mandating accurate financial record keeping. Because these would be state charges, Trump would be powerless to pardon Manafort should he be convicted.
Vance has reportedly been investigating Manafort since 2017, and is taking pains to ensure that any charges brought in the eventuality of a presidential pardon would not violate double jeopardy laws, which protect a defendant from being brought to trial for the same crime twice.
Manafort is currently staring down the possibility of up to 24 years in prison, after being convicted of and pleading guilty to charges including bank fraud, tax fraud, and conspiracy against the United States. The 69-year-old is scheduled to be sentenced on March 8; if given the full sentence recommended by Mueller’s office, he would likely never experience life outside of prison again.
Previously Trump has criticized Manafort’s convictions, saying “I feel badly for Paul Manafort” and calling his treatment “very unfair.”
Despite his predicament, however, Manafort’s approach seemingly hasn’t changed much. Just weeks ago, federal judge Amy Berman Jackson found that Manafort likely lied to Mueller’s team, even after agreeing to a plea agreement with the Special Counsel’s office.