Special Counsel Robert Mueller is taking no chances with his prosecution of President Trump and his criminal associates, and he just took a significant step to defeat the Executive’s pardon powers in federal cases.
The Special Counsel is merging part of his investigation with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who won a lawsuit against “Trump University” last year.
This is of key significance because a president’s pardoning power only applies to federal charges. If Mueller and Schneiderman charge Trump and his cronies with violating New York state law, Trump will be powerless to overturn any sentences that may be rendered. Politico reports:
“Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into Paul Manafort and his financial transactions, according to several people familiar with the matter.
“The cooperation is the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is intensifying. It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes.”
The Supreme Court ruled long ago that a state criminal case may proceed even if there’s an acquittal in a federal case, as each state has the right to enforce its own laws.
Experts at NBC News explained that multiple states could pursue charges against Trump’s presidential campaign due to its relationship with a Russian regime that has been found to have hacked election systems in at least 39 states:
“‘If Donald Jr. meets with Russian lawyers,’ she says, ‘you could argue that the act was in furtherance of an underlying crime, and there is jurisdiction in New York.’
“Beyond New York, Virginia might be able to pursue anyone involved in the DNC hack, given that much of Washington’s technical support is located there. Virginia law bars computer trespass and computer invasion of privacy, and it has a felony conspiracy law targeting “any person” who conspires to commit a felony in the Commonwealth.
“Illinois is one of the few states that has been publicly identified as a victim of Russian hacking. Its state law bars computer fraud and tampering, and criminalizes aiding and abetting such crimes.”
Crucially, a Supreme Court ruling in 1915 settled law that accepting a pardon for criminal activities is an admission of guilt. That means a series of Trump family pardons over Russian collusion could backfire spectacularly, not only stripping the president and his co-conspirators of their 5th Amendment right not to incriminate themselves but providing admissible evidence that can be used against them in court.
The news that Special Counsel Mueller is combining his efforts with New York’s Attorney General is more than just a strategic effort to block the president from using his get-out-of-jail free card. It’s a sign that Mueller is looking down the road at possible convictions of the president or his cronies, and he is already taking steps to force the president’s hand.
It can’t happen soon enough.
Grant Stern is an Editor-At-Large for OccupyDemocrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition