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Beg your pardon? Lawmakers say pardoning Manafort a bad idea

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Image: Republican National Convention
Presidential candidate Donald Trump, with advisor Paul Manafort, conducts a walk-through of the stage at the Quicken Loans Arena before tonight's address to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. -
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Tom Williams CQ-Roll Call,Inc.
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Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday warned President Donald Trump against pardoning his former campaign chairman — a sentiment that at least one top Republican agrees with.

Shortly after Paul Manafort was sentenced to another 43 months behind bars on conspiracy charges by a federal judge in Washington, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that any presidential pardon "would be an obstruction of justice."

"Pardoning Paul Manafort would in effect send a message that you can break the law, defy the justice system and then get rewarded by the president of the United States," Blumenthal said.

A top Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also chimed in on the prospect.

"Pardoning Manafort would be seen as a political disaster for the President," Graham told reporters. "There may come a day down the road, after the politics have changed, that you'd want to consider an application of him like everybody else. But now would be a disaster."

Trump, meanwhile, told reporters after the sentencing that he feels "very badly" for his former campaign chief, but said he had not given a possible pardon "a thought as of this moment."

Speculation about a presidential pardon has swirled given Trump's numerous sympathetic comments and tweets about Manafort throughout the longtime political operative's legal ordeal — which continues in New York with the Manhattan district attorney's announcement Wednesday of a 16-count indictment against the freshly sentenced political consultant.

The actions of Manafort and his lawyers, too, haven't done much to dispel the notion that they might be angling for a pardon.

Manafort pleaded guilty to two of the charges against him last year — after a separate conviction in by a federal grand jury in Virginia on several counts of tax and bank fraud — and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller's office. But but then he lied to investigators about his interactions with a possibly Russian intelligence-linked associate, and his legal team fed information to Trump's lawyers.

Manafort's attorneys have also echoed Trump's language that his former campaign chairman's criminal charges and convictions haven't involved any conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, or as Manafort's attorney and Trump both said Wednesday, "no collusion."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted Wednesday in response, "Another sentencing, another statement by Manafort's lawyer repeating Trump's mantra of 'no collusion,' and another barely concealed appeal for a pardon."

"It shouldn't fall to the Manhattan DA to deter a presidential pardon," Schiff wrote. "Congress should take action to protect the rule of law," he tweeted.

Other Democrats on Wednesday suggested there would never be a good time to pardon Manafort.

"There can be no explanation for a pardon, other than the president's rewarding Paul Manafort for his defying a legitimate and important effort to get at the truth," Blumenthal said.

Sen. Mark Warner, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, further warned: "Manafort is going to prison because he committed serious crimes at home while advancing the interests of Russia and other foreign countries abroad. Any attempt to pardon him would be a gross abuse of power requiring immediate action by Congress."

A pardon would not help Manafort if he's convicted in the New York case — the president can't pardon state criminal convictions.

Tweeted Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y.: "Even if the president pardons #Manafort, New York will ensure he is held accountable."