Simona Mangiante, the wife of former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, appeared on television this week and asked President Trump to pardon her husband, insisting he was not involved in any effort to collude with Russian officials and sway the 2016 election.
“I know he did not [collude],” Mangiante said, during a segment on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show on Monday night. “[I want to] set the record straight about George, in particular, in response to James Comey’s statement…in which he says that George tried actively to obtain emails of Hillary Clinton. This statement is completely false. George never had any interaction with the Russians. He has never been to Russia either. He doesn’t speak Russian, never talked to Russian officials. Yet, he’s apparently the reason for this Russia investigation. This is quite paradoxical for me.”
A short while later, responding to Carlson’s question about whether she thought her husband would end up in prison, Mangiante added, “I trust and hope and ask President Trump to pardon him. I hope he will.”
Papadopoulos has admitted to making contact with individuals who have ties to Russian officials, if not the officials themselves. Official documents also show that the former foreign policy adviser allegedly lobbied the Trump campaign to meet with Kremlin-linked individuals prior to the election. There is also no evidence to suggest that Papadopoulos was “set up” by Justice Department officials like James Comey, as Mangiante claims.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty last October to lying to the FBI about his ties to Russian officials during the 2016 election. It was later revealed that, in March 2016, he had met with a Maltese professor who claimed to have “dirt” on Trump’s campaign rival, Hillary Clinton, in the form of “thousands of emails,” and that Papadopoulos had allegedly passed along that information during a drunken conversation with former Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in May 2016. That conversation was later the impetus for the current Russia investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Papadopoulos is reportedly cooperating with the special counsel’s office. In late May, Mueller asked a federal judge to being preparations for a pre-sentencing report for Papadopoulos, indicating he would likely be sentenced mid-summer.
If Trump chooses to pardon Papadopoulos, the former adviser would hardly be the president’s first. In August last year, Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, the racist, anti-immigrant former Maricopa County sheriff who had been convicted of criminal contempt one month prior. In April, the president pardoned Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, who was convicted in 2007 of obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI.
Trump has also pardoned Kristian Saucier, a former Navy sailor convicted in October 2016 of unauthorized retention of national defense information, and posthumously pardoned former heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson who was convicted in 1913 on the racist charge of transporting a white woman across state lines.
While some of the pardons appear random, others may have been orchestrated to send a message, one of the president’s longtime advisers claims.
“It has to be a signal to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort and even Robert S. Mueller III: indict people for crimes that don’t pertain to Russian collusion and this is what could happen,” former Trump political strategist Roger Stone told the Washington Post on May 31, shortly after Trump pardoned D’Souza. “The special counsel has awesome powers, as you know, but the president has even more awesome powers.”
Whether Trump’s pardons of Arpaio, D’Souza, and Libby were meant to ease those facing charges as a result of Mueller’s investigation is unclear. But if the president decides to pardon Papadopoulos — arguably the man who started it all — it would send a strong signal to others, indeed.
Notably, Trump has made sure to include his own name in that narrative. On Monday, he tweeted, “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong? In the meantime, the never ending Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others) continues into the mid-terms!”
Legal experts remain divided on whether the president actually has the power to pardon himself, if convicted of a crime.