President Donald Trump on Wednesday refused to rule out pardoning his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who was convicted this week on eight counts of tax and bank fraud.
The president, who sat for an interview Wednesday with Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” praised Manafort for going through with a trial rather than taking a plea deal that could potentially have involved him turning against Trump.
“One of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is he went through that trial. You know, they make up stories. People make up stories,” Trump said.
Manafort had been charged with 18 counts of tax and bank fraud as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. A jury found Manafort guilty on eight counts, and U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial on the other 10 counts. Manafort also faces a second criminal trial, to begin next month in a federal court in Washington, on charges of money laundering, witness tampering and failing to register as a foreign agent.
Wary that the president could move to protect his former campaign chairman, congressional Democrats have been outspoken in recent days, warning the president against taking such a step.
Trump compared Manafort favorably to Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight counts, including tax evasion, financial fraud and campaign-finance violations. In his guilty plea, Cohen implicated the president, telling the court he violated campaign-finance law “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”
Asked directly whether he would grant a pardon to his former campaign chairman, the president did not deny the possibility. Instead, he said he has “great respect” for the legal morass Manafort has been through.
“I would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does,” Trump said.
Asked at the Wednesday news briefing whether Trump was considering a pardon for Manafort, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I am not aware of any conversations regarding that at all.
“The president insisted in his Fox News interview that Manafort’s guilty verdict and Cohen’s plea do not implicate him, and that the wrongdoings of Cohen and Manafort had nothing to do with his campaign.
“I didn’t know Manafort well. He wasn’t with the campaign long. They got him on things totally unrelated to the campaign. By the way, they got Cohen on things totally unrelated to the campaign. I’m not involved. I wasn’t charged with anything. People don’t like to say that, I wasn’t charged,” Trump said.
The president had harsher words for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, complaining that the former Alabama senator has failed to root out what Trump said are partisan Democrats embedded in the Justice Department. Trump told Fox News that he only appointed Sessions because he was an “original supporter” on the Trump campaign.
Lamenting Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from any investigation involving the 2016 campaign, a move that has sidelined him from Mueller’s Russia probe, Trump did not rule out the possibility that he might fire Sessions or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
“I put an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. Never took control of the Justice Department and it’s sort of an incredible thing,” Trump said. “He took the job and then he said, ‘I’m going to recuse myself.’ I said, ‘What kind of a man is this?’ And by the way, he was on the campaign. You know, the only reason I gave him the job was I felt loyalty.”