Paul Manafort is reportedly betting on a presidential pardon, something Trump's past words and actions indicate is a very real possibility.
The evidence is mounting against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. And his longtime deputy Rick Gates is cooperating with the special counsel investigation, after pleading guilty last month to conspiracy and lying to the FBI.
But Manafort is reportedly hoping that a presidential pardon will be his get-out-of-jail ticket.
"Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is now betting his future on a presidential pardon," CBS News reported Wednesday. "Manafort expects that the President would grant him a pardon. Legal sources close to the case — but not representing Manafort — believe that is a reasonable expectation."
Speculation about a possible Manafort pardon has been swirling for months.
And on Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Trump's personal attorney was in touch with Manafort's attorney last year and broached the idea of a pardon.
The discussions "raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation," according to the Times.
Manafort pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, money laundering, and tax and bank fraud charges related to his lobbying work for a Russian-friendly political party in Ukraine. He's currently awaiting trial later this year.
The CBS report came just hours after Robert Mueller's office released new court filings that document ongoing ties between Manafort, Gates, and Russian intelligence during the closing months of the 2016 campaign.
The men discussed the stolen Democratic National Committee emails with the Russian contact — emails that were stolen by Russian operatives.
Observers suggest Gates' cooperation has increased the pressure on Manafort to cooperate with Mueller as he zeroes in on Trump. But if Manafort is confident a Trump pardon is looming, there's less incentive to cooperate with Mueller.
Pardoning Manafort, especially preemptively before any trial even took place, could ignite a political firestorm. It could also bring a legal challenge, since it would virtually nullify Mueller's case against Manafort.
Trump would have to rip up protocols for issuing presidential pardons, which call for a five-year waiting period between a conviction and a pardon appeal. The guidelines also require the person seeking a pardon take responsibilities for their crimes, something Manafort would unlikely do.
But Trump has already ignored pardon guidelines in order to reward his crooked, political allies.
Last year, Trump pardoned Arizona's disgraced former sheriff and full-fledged birther Joe Arpaio after he was convicted for refusing to cease racial profiling. Arpaio then lost his re-election bid, but is now running for the U.S. Senate.
Democrats saw the Arpaio pardon as a possible sign of future, weightier pardons.
"The concern I have is that he’s sending a message to people that may be under investigation by Bob Mueller, that ‘I have your back and I’ve got a pardon waiting for you,'" Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) told MSNBC last year.
And last winter, Trump seemed to signal that disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn might receive a pardon.
Manafort may be relying on getting the same support from Trump that Arpaio and Flynn did.