Having been a Beltway undergrad during the Watergate fracas, I’ve been having queasy feelings lately. The first event was Michael Cohen’s plea deal. I’m getting more unsettled as I hear President Trump is considering pardoning his now-convicted former aide, Paul Manafort. That’s asking for impeachment, Mr. President.
Perhaps the president doesn’t realize this, but a pardon for Manafort telegraphs the message of a high probability that criminal things were going on during the campaign. But a pardon erases the tape (to use a Nixonian phrase).
Remember, Manafort’s current convictions have had nothing to do with the president, his campaign or Russia.
But a pardon eliminates the chance of the American public learning whether Mr. Manafort also was involved in illegal activities directed by then-candidate Trump.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cohen has offered to co-operate with the Justice Department on various matters. His guilty plea included improper payments made to porn star “Stormy Daniels” (real name: Stephanie Clifford) to keep her from discussing an alleged affair with Mr. Trump.
The “known unknown” (to borrow Donald Rumsfeld’s phrase) is whether Cohen has firm information that involves the President in impeachable activities. The same applies to Mr. Manafort.
Mr. Cohen has said he would not accept a pardon from President Trump.
This takes us back to Mr. Manafort, who is “pardonable.”
The president is in a tough situation. He can leave Mr. Manafort to defend himself, without a pardon. He can hope Messrs. Manafort and Cohen have no hard information to discredit him.
What’s different between now and the Watergate era was the vocal group of Nixon die-hards. “My President Right or Wrong,” they said. You don’t hear that chant today.
If Mr. Manafort is pardoned, we’ll hear no chorus of “My President Right or Wrong.”
Rather, a pardon will move the needle among Democrats and Republicans from “possible wrongdoing” to “probable wrongdoing.” In other words, a pardon gives the perception there’s at least a 50/50 chance the campaign was engaged in illegal activities.
As a pardon makes a person’s past illegal acts invisible, rumors will expand and inflame. And 50/50 turns into 60/40 and so on.
Without a pardon for Mr. Manafort, the situation will be very different.
The public will be bombarded hourly in the mainstream media by some hair-hurting complicated ‘revelation’ about Cohen or Manafort. It won’t be long before it becomes part of the background noise (assuming none of it actually harms the President).
So please put that pardon pen back in your desk, Mr. President.
Instead, envision a media moment when news about Cohen or Manafort comes after an announcement about Kim Kardashian’s new lingerie product line – because the viewing public is much more interested in Ms. Kardashian than stuff about those other two guys.
Joanne Butler, graduate of the Kennedy School at Harvard, was a professional staff member (R) at the House Ways and Means Committee and served in President George W. Bush’s administration.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.