On August 21, 2018, former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to multiple criminal counts, including campaign finance fraud. During his plea hearing, Cohen implicated the President in the crime, saying that Cohen had paid Stormy Daniels (a) at Trump’s direction, and (b) with the purpose to influence the presidential election.
Speculation immediately ran wild about the possibility of President Trump pardoning Cohen. On the one hand, it seemed possible because Cohen may know much more than he’s already disclosed to prosecutors during the investigation and because the plea deal did not contain an explicit cooperation deal. (As I’ve written here and here, it seems awfully likely that Cohen is cooperating and getting a deal.)
On the other hand, it seemed unlikely that Trump would pardon Cohen if Cohen had decided to cooperate with the government against him. He’s not exactly the forgiving type. See, e.g., the “failing New York Times,” “Crooked Hillary.”
On August 22, 2018, Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, was quoted by NPR as saying:
I know that Mr. Cohen would never accept a pardon from a man that he considers to be both corrupt and a dangerous person in the oval office. And [Cohen] has flatly authorized me to say under no circumstances would he accept a pardon from Mr. Trump, who uses the pardon power in a way that no president in American history has ever used a pardon — to relieve people of guilt who committed crimes, who are political cronies of his.
I was talking with a fellow white-collar lawyer the day Davis’ quotes were publicized. Neither of us had ever heard of a situation where someone would reject a pardon.
Could that happen? More important, would it happen?