WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that a pardon for his onetime 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is facing years in prison for financial fraud, was "not off the table."
Trump told the New York Post in a White House interview that he had never discussed pardoning the 69-year-old longtime lobbyist.
"But I wouldn't take it off the table," Trump said. "Why would I take it off the table?"
In August, a jury in northern Virginia, just outside Washington, found Manafort guilty of eight counts of tax and bank fraud stemming from his work as a political consultant in Ukraine that predated six months of work, including three as chairman, on Trump's successful 2016 run for the White House.
Manafort later pleaded guilty in Washington to two new counts — conspiracy against the U.S., which involved financial crimes, and conspiracy to obstruct justice — and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of possible Trump campaign links to Russia and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice to try to thwart the probe.
As part of his plea deal with Mueller, Manafort agreed to "fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly" questions about "any and all matters" of interest to the government.
But in an abrupt twist this week, Mueller accused Manafort of breaching the plea agreement by repeatedly lying to federal investigators, an allegation Manafort's lawyers rejected. Prosecutors did not describe what Manafort lied about but said they would spell it out in a court filing.
Trump has for months derided Mueller's 18-month investigation as an unending "witch hunt," one that he suggested in the interview "can go on for the rest of [Mueller's] life."
Trump claimed in the interview with the New York tabloid that Mueller had asked Manafort, former Trump political adviser Roger Stone and Stone's associate, Jerome Corsi, to lie about their roles in the 2016 political campaign in order to implicate others in the Trump orbit.
"If you told the truth, you go to jail," Trump said of the prosecutors' pressure on witnesses.
"You know, this flipping stuff is terrible," Trump said of witnesses asked to implicate higher-ups. "You flip and you lie and you get — the prosecutors will tell you 99 percent of the time they can get people to flip. It's rare that they can't.
"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.
Corsi this week broke off negotiations on a plea deal with Mueller's investigators. Corsi and Stone have both suggested Mueller might indict them for criminal offenses related to the 2016 campaign.
“It's actually very brave," Trump said of Manafort, Stone and Corsi. "But this is where we are. And it's a terrible thing."
Trump last week provided written answers to about two dozen questions posed by Mueller about his own actions and recollections of the campaign as he shifted from his life as a New York real estate mogul to that of a first-time candidate for public office. But it is not known whether Mueller will seek to follow up with more questions for Trump, now nearly halfway through his first term in the White House.