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Trump loses leverage as Russia scandal investigation intensifies

Donald Trump thought the presidential pardon power gave him leverage over Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Oops.
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee June 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty...
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee June 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee...

For Donald Trump, the Russia scandal has long been an existential threat to his presidency, but he's likely taken comfort in the idea that there's an escape hatch: if all else fails, Trump can abuse the powers of his office and simply start pardoning everyone.

Indeed, the president has reportedly sought information from aides on his power to issue pardons to White House aides, members of his family, and even himself.

Which makes last night's Politico report all the more important.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into Paul Manafort and his financial transactions, according to several people familiar with the matter.The cooperation is the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman is intensifying. It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump's campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes.

Politico's Josh Dawley talked to Rachel on the air last night, and explained that the special counsel and the New York attorney general's office have been in contact over much of the summer, sharing evidence.

And that's important because it closes a potential avenue. If Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman who insists he's done nothing wrong, believes a presidential pardon is his get-out-of-jail-free card, so he has no incentive to cooperate with investigators, Mueller's work with Schneiderman reapplies pressure.

Since a president can't pardon a defendant in a state case, the trump card, so to speak, has effectively been taken away.

And as it turns out, that's not the only development of note in the Trump-Russia scandal:

* The Associated Press reports that Rinat Akhmetshin, the Russian-American lobbyist who attended last summer's collusion meeting in Trump Tower, has testified to the federal grand jury. It's the latest evidence that Mueller is taking that 2016 meeting, scheduled so that Team Trump could obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russia, quite seriously.

* The Wall Street Journal reports on the scope of Paul Manafort's work with Russian political interests over the course of a decade.

* And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley noted yesterday that the president called him out of the blue yesterday to remind the Iowa senator of the White House's support for ethanol subsidies. There doesn't appear to be a substantive reason for Trump to privately restate his position on the issue, though it's worth noting for context that Donald Trump Jr. will soon be testifying before Grassley's committee.

Watch this space.