Robert Mueller’s recent decision to work with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigative chess at its best.
Politico reported on Wednesday that Department of Justice (DOJ) Special Counsel Robert Mueller — who headed the FBI under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama — is now working with the New York AG’s office in the probe of Paul Manafort, who was chairman of 45’s* presidential campaign. New York state authorities are already working on their own investigation of Manafort, as prosecutors have issued subpoenas demanding to see certain bank records pertaining to a series of questionable loans.
Mueller and Schneiderman collaborating on the Manafort probe very likely means that the former FBI director is seeking to avoid a potential presidential pardon for Manafort, as presidents are unable to issue pardons for state crimes. The President of the United States is constrained by the U.S. Constitution to only be able to issue pardons for federal offenses, cases prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys, or offenses within the District of Columbia. Anyone seeking a pardon for a state crime would have to make their plea to either the governor of that state or a state board of pardons and paroles:
“An offense that violates a state law is not an offense against the United States. A person who wishes to seek a pardon or a commutation of sentence for a state offense should contact the authorities of the state in which the conviction occurred.”
The New York-based investigation of Manafort appears to center on potential money laundering, as the Manhattan District Attorney’s office issued subpoenas in July for records of $16 million in loans to Manafort made by a bank owned by a former advisor to President Trump’s campaign. It’s not yet known whether or not the loans are in any way tied to $17 million Manafort made as a consultant for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine in the years prior to heading Trump’s campaign.
As NBC News reported earlier this year, Manafort made “a series of complex transactions” in which he paid for New York real estate in cash, taking out $13 million in loans on multiple properties, which were bought using limited liability companies (LLCs) that later transferred the properties to his name. Money laundering is a felony in New York, and there are varying degrees of punishment for those found guilty of the crime, depending on the severity of the crime being covered up by the laundering of money.
Manafort is a central figure in Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s campaign and its potential ties to Russia. FBI agents raided Manafort’s home in early August, seizing various bank records that are typically sought when investigating violations of the Bank Secrecy Act (which pertains to money laundering).
Matthew P. Robbins is an economics reporter for Grit Post covering wages, budgets, and taxes. He lives in Chicago, Illinois with his husband and two cats.