Gates pleaded guilty last month to lying to the FBI and conspiring to defraud the United States, and he has agreed to cooperate with Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether there was any collusion with Moscow by Trump's campaign.
The possibility of pardons arose as special counsel Robert Mueller was "building cases against both men", which the Times said raised "questions about whether the lawyer. was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate" in the Russian Federation investigation.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that John Dowd, who resigned last week, raised the subject with their respective lawyers past year because Trump's team was concerned about what they might reveal to FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of a deal.
When asked Wednesday whether Dowd did anything while representing the president that Trump objected to, Sanders did not say any talks to the Flynn and Manafort legal teams would fit that definition.
She repeatedly cited a statement from Trump's current lawyer, Ty Cobb.
It was not clear whether Dowd discussed the proposed pardons with Trump before speaking with Manafort and Flynn's attorneys, the Times reported.
Van der Zwaan-the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan, who is suing BuzzFeed News over its publication of the Trump-Russia dossier-pleaded guilty in February to lying to the special counsel.
Dowd had discussions with attorneys for Flynn and Manafort shortly after he took over as Trump's personal lawyer last summer, according to the Times.
Mueller's team has yet to produce evidence that van der Zwaan, Gates, or Gates' business partner, Paul Manafort, were involved in a scheme to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Shortly after the Washington Post reported in July of 2017 that some of his lawyers had discussed using pardons to undercut Mueller's investigation, Trump noted in a tweet that he has the "complete power to pardon".
Legal experts were split on whether such a discussion would amount to obstruction of justice, even if Dowd broached the idea with Trump before talking to lawyers for Manafort and Flynn - a point that the New York Times said remained unclear. She added waiving their potential sentences is "not being now discussed at the White House".
Gates remained in touch with "Person A" late in the campaign, Mueller said, communicating with the associate and van der Zwaan in a "series of calls" in September and October of 2016.
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.
But it's very unlikely that the DOJ Pardon Attorney's office would play a role in any decision to issue a pardon besides creating a formal record after the fact, unless Trump wanted the advice.
"I hope they're right", he said.