Sanders, when pressed to state unequivocally that pardons have not been discussed in relation to the Russian Federation investigation, again pointed to Cobb's remarks, adding that he's "the person that would be most directly involved in this".

A former Russian intelligence officer who worked with U.S. President Donald Trump's former top campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates was communicating with Gates late in the 2016 presidential campaign, according to court records filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office.

Andrew Wright, a former associate in the White House counsel's office under President Barack Obama, highlighted that Dowd, Cobb, and Sekulow have all denied that Dowd broached the possibility of pardons for Flynn or Manafort.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders referred to Cobb's statement when asked about the Times' report at a briefing Wednesday, later adding that pardons are "not currently" under consideration.

Flynn, a former national security adviser, pleaded guilty in December to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about contacts with the Russian ambassador and has agreed to work with the special counsel.

Meanwhile, Manafort's status as Trump's campaign chairman during a crucial time in the 2016 election is also likely of interest to investigators.

Of all the characters targeted by Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election, Alex van der Zwaan, minor though he may seem, will make history.

Even in Dowd's comment to the Times, there was wiggle room. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. "Period." He did not respond to request for comment from The Associated Press.

While these allegations are still unconfirmed, the president has openly discussed potential pardons for former aides under investigation in the Russian Federation probe, according to two people with knowledge of the interviews who spoke with the Times.

The newspaper, citing three anonymous people with knowledge of the discussions, says that then-Trump attorney, John Dowd, raised the idea with attorneys for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

They also said that when van der Zwaan was interviewed by the special counsel's office, he "admitted that he knew" about the Russian connection because Gates had told him about it.

Manafort and Flynn were closely linked to Trump during the campaign and in the White House, respectively.

Less than two weeks later, Flynn's brother, Joseph Flynn, tweeted at Trump, "About time you pardoned General Flynn who has taken the biggest fall for all of you given the illegitimacy of this confessed crime in the wake of all this corruption". He said that Person A made him aware that charges could be forthcoming against them in Ukraine over their report on Tymoshenko.

Raising such a possibility could be viewed as an incentive for witnesses not to cooperate with investigators. "This is all my personal opinion, and I stand by it".

  • Tracy Klein