WASHINGTON — Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Sunday the president might pardon his jailed, onetime campaign chairman and others ensnared in the Russia investigation once special counsel Robert Mueller's work wraps up, if he believed they were treated "unfairly."
Until then, consideration of clemency is unnecessary, Giuliani said, as the White House presses to bring the yearlong investigation to an end.
Giuliani denied that Trump was trying to send a message to Paul Manafort, who was the 2016 chairman for nearly five months, or others to refrain from cooperating with prosecutors. The former New York City mayor suggested that an end to the investigation could be in sight one way or the other — either by undercutting the Mueller's inquiry as illegitimate, or if necessary, by agreeing to a Trump interview with prosecutors under limited conditions.
"The president is not going to issue pardons in this investigation," Giuliani said. "Because you just cloud what is becoming now a very clear picture of an extremely unfair investigation with no criminality involved in it of any kind."
But, he added, "When it's over, hey, he's the president of the United States. He retains his pardon power. Nobody is taking that away from him. He can pardon, in his judgment."
Manafort was sent to jail last week after a federal judge revoked his house arrest over allegations of witness tampering in the Russia investigation. Trump has criticized that decision as "very unfair" as Manafort prepares for two criminal trials.
Trump has worked outside the traditional pardon process and used his clemency powers in cases where he believed prosecutors may have been motivated by politics. He made clear on Sunday his view of Mueller's investigation, saying it was "on pretty weak grounds right now."
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she thought it would be "more helpful if the president never mentioned the word pardon again with respect to the Russian investigation because he wants to get that Russian investigation completed. And every time he brings up the issue of pardons it gives the investigators something else that they have to look into."
Seeking to undermine Mueller's work, Trump and his lawyers have seized on a Justice Department inspector general's report on the 2016 Hillary Clinton email investigation that found insubordination and poor judgment at the FBI. Some of the officials who worked on the Clinton investigation also worked on the FBI's Russia probe, but the report did not find that political bias had tainted the Clinton review.
The Justice Department has asked its internal watchdog to review whether there was any politically motivated surveillance by the FBI of the Trump campaign.
"This is a case where it's crying out for someone to investigate the investigators," Giuliani said. "We want the Mueller probe to be investigated, the way the Trump administration has been investigated."
Echoing Giuliani's view, former White House strategist Steve Bannon said there was no need for pardons because Trump could disrupt the Russia investigation by firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller.
Bannon suggested that Trump should order Rosenstein to comply in the next two days with every subpoena he has received from congressional committees.
"If he does not do it in 48 hours, he's fired," Bannon said. "You're not going to need pardons. ... With the exposure of all this, as we go into it, we're going to get into the substrate and the foundation of the entire Mueller investigation."
Signaling some openness to a Trump interview with Mueller's team, Giuliani outlined the possibility under narrow conditions and said he expected Trump to make a decision by July 4. Giuliani said he is opposed to having an interview but "the president wants to do it so we have to sort through it."
"If we did have it ... obviously what we would really like something in writing, responded to in writing. And it can be under oath."
He said the interview could be audio recorded, but that questions would need to be limited just to specific questions about "the heart of the probe" — allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Mueller is also investigating questions of whether Trump improperly sought to obstruct the probe, such as by firing James Comey as FBI director, and if Trump refuses an interview, Mueller could resort to a subpoena to compel testimony.
Giuliani said they'd prefer that Trump sit for a two-hour interview and Mueller's team probably wants four, "so let's settle at three."
"There might be a narrow area that we could all agree on," he said.
Giuliani spoke on CNN's "State of the Union" and CBS' "Face the Nation," and Bannon appeared on ABC's "This Week." Collins was on CBS.