President Donald Trump dangled a pardon in Paul Manafort’s direction Wednesday, just as special counsel Robert Mueller’s team threatened fresh legal vengeance against Manafort for a new wave of “crimes and lies.”
Trump denied that a pardon had ever been explicitly discussed with his former campaign chairman, but it’s “not off the table,” he told The New York Post in an Oval Office interview published Wednesday.
“It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?,” Trump said.
Trump’s musings will likely come as welcome news to Manafort, who’s facing the prospect of life in prison after allegedly breaking the terms of his plea agreement by lying to Mueller and the FBI. He’s now awaiting sentencing in two separate jurisdictions after convictions on fraud and criminal conspiracy charges.
Trump praised Manafort and two other subjects of the investigation, former Trump campaign aide Roger Stone, and Stone’s associate Jerome Corsi.
He claimed without any proof that all three have been pressured to lie by special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s investigating Trump’s links to Russia.
“But I had three people: Manafort, Corsi — I don’t know Corsi, but he refuses to say what they demanded. Manafort, Corsi and Roger Stone,” Trump said. “It’s actually very brave.”
Trump’s comments come one day after The New York Times revealed that Manafort's legal team had been communicating with Trump’s lawyers after Manafort signed a sweeping cooperation agreement with Mueller in September.
The only apparent explanation for Manafort to want to share information with Trump’s lawyers would be to curry favor with the president in hopes of getting a pardon, legal analysts told VICE News.
On Monday, Mueller accused Manafort of violating that deal by committing a fresh wave of “crimes and lies,” prompting legal analysts to say Trump’s former campaign chairman now likely faces even more serious legal jeopardy than when he was first convicted.
“It’s highly likely that Paul Manafort went south because there has been a pardon or a commutation dangling over his head,” said Gene Rossi, a former prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Manafort was found guilty of bank and tax fraud in a jury trial. “That’s the only explanation I can provide.”
Democratic Senator Mark Warner blasted Trump on Twitter after Wednesday’s interview was published, calling any pardon of Manafort a “blatant and unacceptable abuse of power.”
In June, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that when the Mueller investigation ends, pardons might follow.
“When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons,” Giuliani told The New York Daily News.
Cover image: President Donald Trump swats at the fake snow that was dropping from the ceiling as he arrives to speaks at a rally for Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in Biloxi, Miss. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)