ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law Wednesday clearing away legal hurdles that could have prevented state prosecutions of people pardoned by President Trump for federal crimes.
Supporters of the new law, including newly empowered Democrats elected last year, said New York’s broad double jeopardy law didn’t explicitly give state prosecutors a green light to bring charges when a defendant has received a federal pardon. The law says a presidential pardon wouldn’t be sufficient for a member of a president’s family or close associate.
Cuomo, a Democrat, signed the bill months after its May passage was led by Democrats who worried Trump would pardon associates charged amid the probe of Russian election meddling. It also comes days after state prosecutors in New York City asked a judge to reject claims by the defense team for twice-convicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort that their mortgage fraud case is double jeopardy .
New York Democrats have argued that the law will ensure that the state’s ongoing investigations into associates of the president can’t be derailed by a White House pardon. Republicans, meanwhile, have decried the law as a partisan attack that assumes hypothetical pardons that may never be issued.
Presidents can’t issue pardons for state crimes.
But supporters of New York’s law say it could keep a president from using federal pardon power to shield associates, and perhaps the president, from liability under state law.
The idea behind New York’s law is to prevent a president’s abuse of pardon power if state prosecutors file criminal charges against associates who could provide information that could be used against the president, according to Ian Farrell, professor of constitutional law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
‘‘The whole point of this law is to prevent a president from saying to his associates: ‘Don’t worry. If you get charged under federal law, I will pardon you, and then you aren’t in danger of any state law charges, so there’s no reason you have to flip,’’’ Farrell said.
Former attorney general Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, first raised the alarm about the double jeopardy loophole last year. In a letter to Cuomo and lawmakers, he wrote: ‘‘Recent reports indicate that the president may be considering issuing pardons that may impede criminal investigations.’’
The law was passed this year amid speculation that Trump might pardon his former campaign chairman, Manafort, or former lawyer Michael Cohen.
Both have been convicted of federal crimes.
Manafort is awaiting trial on a New York state mortgage fraud charge that closely mirrors part of his federal case.
Manafort is serving a 7½-year sentence in a Pennsylvania lockup, and has pleaded not guilty to state charges. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr., who announced the charges against Manafort in March, declined comment Wednesday.
On Oct.9, prosecutors filed court papers in Manhattan arguing that the case against Manafort is based on allegations that weren’t resolved in his 2018 federal trial.
Columbia Law School professor Daniel Richman said it’s ‘‘far from clear’’ how exactly New York’s new law would impact Manafort’s case.
‘‘The hypothetical is that the president did pardon Manafort, and New York went forward on a charge or set of charges that until now were covered by New York’s expansive statute,’’ Richman said. ‘‘Then Manafort would move for protection under New York’s law, and the prosecution would respond that this protection is no longer available to him.’’
What happens next would play out in state court, according to Richman, without oversight from federal courts.
The new law — which is effective immediately — applies to future and past offenses as long as the individual hasn’t already been tried or entered a plea. Twenty-four states already have laws making it clear that presidential pardons do not cover state charges, according to Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Long Island Democrat and the bill’s Senate sponsor.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.