In one corner, we see Special Counsel Robert Mueller pressuring Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's felonious former campaign chairman. In the other corner, we see the president himself, who seemed to send his former aide a not-so-subtle signal during an interview today with the New York Post.
He's never discussed a pardon for Paul Manafort, President Trump said Wednesday — but it's "not off the table.""It was never discussed, but I wouldn't take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?" the president said during an Oval Office interview on Wednesday.
Trump added, "You know, this flipping stuff is terrible." It remains deeply odd to see a president repeatedly condemn a common and effective law-enforcement tool.
In the same interview, Trump went on to say, "I'm telling you, this is McCarthyism. We are in the McCarthy era. This is no better than McCarthy. And that was a bad situation for the country. But this is where we are. And it's a terrible thing,"
Every time the president tries to talk about McCarthyism, which is often, it's worth noting that Trump doesn't understand the issue nearly as well as he thinks he does.
Regardless, these new comments are brazen -- and by some measures, scandalous -- for a specific reason.
The man who oversaw the president's political operation, who's already a convicted felon, is a potential witness against Trump. And yet, there's the president, publicly dangling the possibility of a pardon at a critical time in the investigation.
It wasn't long ago that moves like these were seen as possible grounds for impeachment.
None of this, of course, is coming out of the blue. Trump's legal team has broached the subject before, as evidenced by Rudy Giuliani's reported comments in August, when he was quoted saying that Manafort "is hardly a menace to society."
The president himself was asked about the possibility of a pardon in June. "I don't want to talk about that," Trump said at the time, before quickly adding, "But look, I do want to see people treated fairly. That's what it's all about."
Trump has already issued some highly provocative pardons, which were arguably abuses of his presidential power. Pardoning Manafort, however, would push this dynamic past the breaking point.