President Donald Trump refused to rule out a pardon for his former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, in an interview Wednesday with The New York Post.
“It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table,” Trump told The Post. “Why would I take it off the table?”
A federal jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty on eight counts of fraud in August. He pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in a Washington, D.C. courtroom in September and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
That deal fell apart dramatically on Monday, when the special counsel’s office accused Manafort in a court filing of lying to federal investigators. The next day, The New York Times reported that Manafort’s lawyer gave Trump’s legal team information about his client’s meetings with prosecutors even after Manafort agreed to cooperate with the investigation.
The Guardian also reported on Tuesday that Manafort met with Wikileaks head Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London in March 2016 — a story that, if true, could tie Manafort and, by extension, Trump to stolen Clinton campaign emails that Wikileaks published later that year. That report has not been confirmed by other news outlets.
Trump has made no secret of his anger over the Mueller investigation, tweeting about it regularly. On Wednesday, he accused the special counsel’s office of pressuring Manafort, former campaign aide Roger Stone, and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi to lie, though he did not say about what. He also decried the common prosecutorial tactic of “flipping” lower-level criminal suspects to get them to provide evidence against those above them.
“If you told the truth, you go to jail,” Trump told The Post of how he believes Mueller’s team has conducted its investigation.
Three former Trump campaign aides — George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn — have pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators. Earlier this month, Corsi said he also expects to be indicted for lying to Mueller, though he said he has been forthright with investigators.
Since taking office, Trump has pardoned several high-profile conservatives whose cases had become a cause célèbre on the right, including Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, and former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff Joe Arpaio.
But after Manafort’s conviction in August, Congressional Republicans begged Trump not to pardon his former campaign chair, with sometime Trump critic Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) calling a Manafort pardon “a bridge too far.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who will likely chair the powerful House Judiciary Committee come January, had even stronger words for Trump on Tuesday.
“[T]he President should understand that even dangling a pardon in front of a witness like Manafort is dangerously close to obstruction of justice and would just fortify a claim or a charge of obstruction of justice against the President,” Nadler told CNN.