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Nation & World

Andrew Weissmann, Ex-Mueller Deputy, On Pardon Granted To Michael Flynn

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The day after President Trump pardoned a turkey, he pardoned his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Trump has pardoned many of his friends and allies during his time in office. As part of the Mueller investigation, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with Russia. Andrew Weissmann was a top prosecutor in that investigation. He served as special counsel Robert Mueller's deputy. Thank you for joining us.

ANDREW WEISSMANN: Nice to be here.

SHAPIRO: I got to begin by asking whether you always expected it would turn out this way. There was certainly speculation.

WEISSMANN: It is not surprising, but it is still shocking, which seems like it's an oxymoron, but it really isn't in terms of the president, in my view, really denigrating the rule of law and abusing the power he has to pardon. This is a power that can be used so well and is a way of ameliorating issues where, after the fact, people say, you know what? That was a draconian sentence. Our values change, and we - the presidential pardon power can be used in a really beneficial way to reflect the current norms of a culture. That is a far cry from what's happening here, where Michael Flynn has not even been sentenced.

SHAPIRO: You say this is an abuse of the pardon power, but the nature of the pardon power is that it can be used however and whenever the president wants. And so that being the case, how is this an abuse?

WEISSMANN: When I say something is an abuse, it means that I think he is abusing a power that he has. It is not questioning, in this case, that it can be lawfully done, but that doesn't mean that it's the correct thing to do. You know, that distinction is one, having been in the Department of Justice for over 20 years, we often make, which is that as a prosecutor, you have the power to do things, but that doesn't mean that you should do it. And here, exercising a very broad pardon power to absolve somebody who committed a crime for you yourself, that should be the situation where you obviously have a conflict, and you shouldn't be exercising that power.

SHAPIRO: So you're saying it's not just that this is somebody who was close to the president, who was working for the president, but that the crime he confessed to was in service of the president.

WEISSMANN: Exactly. Just like Roger Stone, where the sentencing judge, the federal judge, Amy Berman Jackson, actually made that comment in sentencing Roger Stone, that the crimes that he was convicted of by a jury were crimes that had been committed at the behest of and for the benefit of the president of the United States.

SHAPIRO: Now, this pardon does not delete or negate the Mueller report any more than President Trump's claims of a witch hunt or a hoax do. So what do you think the actual impact of this pardon is beyond the symbolism of the president bailing out somebody who committed a crime to serve him?

WEISSMANN: It is much more than symbolism when it comes to individual justice being meted out to people. In other words, one of the things that is important to the rule of law is that people who are similarly situated be treated the same. So it's not just symbolism when somebody is absolved of criminal liability, when many other people in similar situations are not. That is really denigrating something that is critical to the crown jewel of what it means to be an American democracy, which is the rule of law.

We like to separate ourselves from autocratic regimes, where we say that the Justice Department is just a tool or an arm of the prime minister or the president. But this is not just a symbol. This is really just an illustration of going down that road where the Justice Department and the White House views the rule of law as something that is only there when it helps them and otherwise is not to be followed.

SHAPIRO: So look ahead for us. Do you think that this pardon signals what we can expect between now and when President Trump leaves office?

WEISSMANN: Yes. I mean, obviously, it's always difficult to predict, but I think that with this president, he's usually pretty transparent about what he's thinking of doing. And so I anticipate that the president will pardon a lot of people, whether it's his friends, family members, his business organizations, such as the Trump Organization, even going so far as pardoning himself, an issue that - it's not clear whether that is even lawful. But I can see him trying to do that.

SHAPIRO: That's former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, now with NYU Law School. Thank you very much.

WEISSMANN: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.