Paul Manafort; Donald Trump; Michael Cohen (Getty/Elsa/Rick Loomis/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Sarah Huckabee Sanders does not rule out possibility of presidential pardons for Cohen and Manafort

"The Manafort case doesn't have anything to do with the president," the White House press secretary told reporters


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Shira Tarlo
August 22, 2018 8:43PM (UTC)

The White House refused to rule out the possibility of President Donald Trump issuing a pardon for his former 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who was convicted Tuesday of eight counts of financial fraud and his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight criminal charges, including campaign finance charges, implicating the commander-in-chief himself.

"The Manafort case doesn't have anything to do with the president. It doesn't have anything to do with his campaign, doesn't have anything to do with the White House," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during Wednesday afternoon's briefing. She added that she was "not aware" of any conversations regarding a presidential pardon for Manafort or Cohen.

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Cohen surrendered himself to the FBI Tuesday and admitted to federal prosecutors that he paid off adult film star Stormy Daniels "in coordination and at the direction of the candidate," referring to Trump, for "the purpose of influencing the [2016 presidential] election."

Sanders also maintained that the president "did nothing wrong" pursuant to the hush money payments Cohen made to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.

"As the president has said, and we've stated many times, he did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him, and we've commented on it extensively," Sanders said. "Just because Michael Cohen made a plea deal, doesn't implicate the president on anything."

Sanders refused to answer any more questions about what information Trump had about the payments and when he had it. The president has previously insisted that he did not know about them. When pressed by reporters about whether the president lied to the American people when he denied knowing about the payments to women, Sanders called the accusation "ridiculous."

"I think that's a ridiculous accusation," she said. "The president, in this matter, has done nothing wrong. And there have been no charges filed against him."

The White House press secretary also responded to questions about Trump's tweets about Cohen from earlier in the day, in which the president said Cohen "broke" and advised people not to "retain" his legal services. "The president has expressed his views on that," Sanders said. "I don't have anything further to add."

Sanders also responded to speculation that Trump could be impeached after Cohen agreed to a plea deal with federal prosecutors. "The idea of an impeachment is frankly a sad attempt by Democrats as the only message they seem to have going into the midterms," Sanders said.

Appearing on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show Tuesday night, Alan Dershowitz, the famed attorney, constitutional scholar and author of the new book "The Case Against Impeaching Trump," echoed Sanders' point that Cohen's guilty plea does not threaten Trump.

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The Harvard professor indicated that violating election laws is no big deal, and they are "regarded as kind of jaywalking in the realm of things about elections. Every administration violates the election laws. Every candidate violates the election laws when they run for president. Usually, they pay a fine or something like that. Here, they're trying to elevate this into an impeachable offense or a felony against the president."

Dershowitz added that, while Tuesday was a "negative day" for the White House, "we're a long way from tolling the bells for this administration."

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Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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