Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons

Democrats are increasingly expressing worries that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump mocks wind power: 'When the wind doesn't blow, just turn off the television' Pentagon investigator probing whether acting chief boosted former employer Boeing Trump blasts McCain, bemoans not getting 'thank you' for funeral MORE may seek to pardon allies convicted or charged in investigations of his campaign and administration in the wake of former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortSenior Ukrainian official says he's opened probe into US election interference Mueller team asks court for delay, citing 'press of other work' Pollster says 'surprised' 37 percent of Republicans don't oppose Trump pardoning ex-associates MORE’s sentencing.

Worries about Trump pardons have long been bandied about by critics of his administration, but the chatter is on the rise in recent weeks.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDems request probe into spa owner suspected of trying to sell access to Trump Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons The Hill's Morning Report — Trump readies first veto after latest clash with Senate GOP MORE (D-Calif.) signaled Thursday that his panel is interested in whether Trump is dangling pardons to witnesses tied to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation or to the Southern District of New York, which is probing payments made to two women alleging affairs with Trump.

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The chatter also comes as questions have been raised over whether former Trump lawyer Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenTrump: George Conway 'a whack job' Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump steps up attacks on McCain MORE was approached by the president’s legal team with an offer suggesting the president would grant him a pardon following the FBI’s raid last year of his house and office.

“We’ve seen the president dangle pardons publicly really through much of the course of the investigation,” Schiff told The Hill and CNN.

“We are obviously are deeply interested in all the documents that Mr. Cohen produced and others that we’ve been able to obtain. We would be looking to corroborate the evidence we received and this is very much indeed a big interest of ours,” he added.

Schiff isn’t alone in raising the concern.

“I think if the president pardons people who we are talking about, it is an element of obstruction,” Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyDems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons Dems introduce bill requiring disclosure of guest logs from White House, Trump properties Alito, Kagan oppose cameras in Supreme Court MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told The Hill.

Quigley said he believes Trump is signaling plans to issue a pardon because he made similar comments when he pardoned I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

“Why do I worry about it? Because before he pardoned others like Libby and Sheriff Arpaio, he’s saying the same sorts of things he said then — that he was about to pardon. He’s saying the same things now,” Quigley said.

Asked this week whether he would offer Manafort a pardon, Trump responded that he felt “very badly” for his former campaign chairman but did not answer the question directly.

Trump has publicly said he believes he has the right to issue extensive pardons, stating on Twitter last summer that he even has the “absolute right” to pardon himself.

Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, also has suggested Trump could issue pardons after the Mueller probe concludes.

“When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons,” Giuliani, a former New York mayor, told the New York Daily News last year.

Giuliani also told The New York Times in August that he advised Trump to postpone decisions on pardons until after the Mueller investigation is over so as to not give the impression that he is trying to interfere with it. Trump, according to the report, agreed.

Democrats say such statements are a dog whistle to people that they could get a pardon for remaining loyal to Trump.

“Frankly from a public posture, I don’t think they had to approach the president. I think people like Rudy Giuliani were ringing the pardon dinner bell saying to ‘come get it,’” Quigley told The Hill.

Critics, worried Trump will pardon figures entwined in the investigations of his campaign and administration, have pointed to the president’s history of granting pardons or clemency to political allies he says have been unfairly treated by the justice system, such as Arpaio and Dinesh D'Souza.

Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., was found guilty in a Department of Justice-led probe for racially profiling Latinos and detaining those he suspected were in the U.S. illegally. An early supporter of Trump, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt in July 2017 for disobeying a federal judge's order to refrain from racially profiling Latinos during patrols.

In a statement announcing his pardon, Trump praised Arpaio’s “more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation” and said he deserved clemency.

In May, Trump pardoned conservative commentator D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to making illegal campaign contributions. 

Trump said D’Souza “was treated very unfairly by our government!” He also said that while he does not personally know the commentator — who is known for vitriolic attacks against former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBudowsky: Biden or Beto: Where's the beef? Super Tuesday bonanza raises stakes for Dems Whatever happened to nuclear abolition? MOREHillary Clinton and other liberal leaders — he became aware of his case because he saw him in the news. 

If Trump has talked about pardons while the probes are ongoing, then the Democrats’ criticism would be fair, said former Rep. Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyHill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons Ex-GOP lawmaker joins family firm  MORE (R-Fla.), who sat on the House Intelligence Committee before retiring from Congress last year.

“As a former prosecutor I have a lot of faith in the justice system. I don’t think anyone should dangle a pardon which could undermine the process. Once time has gone by and the appeals have been exhausted and there seems to be an injustice, then [a pardon] could be considered,” Rooney told The Hill.

Others described it as a scare tactic that Democrats are using to hurt Trump.

“Chairman Schiff continues to voice the ‘concern of the day’ without one bit of evidence,” Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsJordan, Meadows backed by new ads from pro-Trump group: report Trump keeps tight grip on GOP Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons MORE (R-N.C.), a close Trump ally, told The Hill.

“His new claims of potential pardons and abuse of power is just the latest attempt to message without supporting facts,” added Meadows, a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Rep. Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartHill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons House passes series of measures hitting Russia, Putin MORE (R-Utah), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told The Hill that fears of pardons come from Trump's critics.

"I don't believe the president has any plans to pardon these individuals, he said. “The only people who suggest this are the presidents political detractors.”

Jordan Fabian contributed.