If Trump is using the power of the pardon to influence potential witnesses in the Russia probe, it could be used against him as evidence of potential obstruction of justice.
Trump announced on Thursday that he was issuing a presidential pardon to his felon fanboy Dinesh D'Souza, and is considering handing out pardons to Martha Stewart and former Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojevich, both of whom also appeared on "The Apprentice."
All three were convicted of (or pleaded guilty to) charges similar to existing and potential future charges facing several of Trump's close associates, including campaign finance violations, corruption, and lying to federal investigators.
That pattern could end up coming back to haunt him, according to CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who said on Thursday that the pardons "definitely could be seen as evidence of an impeachable offense" if he's using them to send a message to or influence potential witnesses in the Russia investigation.
Appearing on CNN's "AC 360" with Anderson Cooper, Toobin acknowledged that presidential pardons are constitutionally protected — but, he added, "the negotiations around them could well [be] evidence of obstruction of justice."
"If there were any sort of quid pro quos, any sort of deals where the president says implicitly or explicitly or through intermediaries — to Paul Manafort, to Michael Flynn, to Michael Cohen — 'hang in there, don't cooperate and I'll give you a pardon,' that, I think, definitely could be seen as evidence of an impeachable offense," Toobin said.
Toobin isn't the only one who thinks that.
When Trump issued his first presidential pardon (to Arpaio) in August, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said Trump was using his pardon power as a "political tool" instead of advancing "the interest of justice."
"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,'" Schiff said at the time.
We have since learned that there's good reason to believe that some sort of quid pro quo deal could be at work here.
The New York Times reported in March that Trump’s then-personal attorney broached the idea of a pardon with lawyers for former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
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.
A short time later, CBS News reported that Manafort was "betting his future on a presidential pardon."
Manafort reportedly "expects" that Trump will grant him a pardon, which may have convinced him not to cooperate with investigators in the ongoing Russia investigation.
As Toobin said on Thursday, the pardons themselves may not be enough to establish obstruction of justice — but the circumstances under which they were issued could very well end up being used as evidence in special counsel Robert Mueller's obstruction probe.
We already learned this week that the obstruction probe is even more expansive than previously thought. And now, it might be even stronger, too.