President Donald Trump’s comment calling former campaign chairman Paul Manafort a “very good person,” despite 18 criminal charges against him, was a “strategic” message to Manafort that he could be rewarded with a pardon if he keeps his mouth shut, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said Friday on MSNBC.
“I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad,” Trump told reporters before boarding Marine One on Friday. “He happens to be a very good person. And I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”
Vance noted: “If you’re Paul Manafort and you hear about that — and we all know Paul Manafort’s heard about that — it’s difficult to read that as anything other than a message to Manafort: ‘Hold on, don’t cut a deal with the government while the jury is out.’” A deal would almost certainly involve cooperation in other investigations, possibly including the president.
Trump “is, in essence, saying, ‘Don’t do that. Help is on the way. I can pardon you in the future,’” said Vance. If word about Trump’s comments gets out to a member of the jury, which has not been sequestered, there’s “great risk of prejudicing the jury.”
Trump’s conduct is “reprehensible,” she said. “He should be told to stay out of the criminal process.” But she also warned that any pardon from Trump could potentially be part of a case against him for obstruction of justice.
Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing said Friday that his client’s team “really appreciates the support of President Trump.”
Asked Thursday if he would pardon Manafort if he’s convicted, Trump said he wasn’t going to talk about it.
The jury in Manafort’s trial was unable to reach a verdict Friday and will reconvene Monday.
Judge T.S. Ellis III revealed that he has received a number of death threats during the proceedings and is being protected by U.S. marshals.
Listen to what else Vance had to say about Trump’s “message” to Manafort in the video up top.