Trump is refusing to rule out the possibility of issuing a pardon to his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was indicted for the third time on Friday.
As Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort got hit with even more charges on Friday stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Trump refused to rule out the possibility that he would issue a pardon to let Manafort off the hook.
Speaking to reporters Friday morning on the White House South Lawn, Trump was asked whether he was considering issuing pardons to his former campaign chairman, who was indicted for the third time Friday, or his personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who is under criminal investigation for his business dealings.
"It's certainly far too early to be thinking about that," Trump said. "They haven't been convicted of anything."
While they haven't been convicted of anything, Manafort is facing a slew of federal charges, and Cohen could soon find himself in a similar position.
On Friday, things went from bad to worse for Manafort as special counsel Mueller's office brought additional charges against him, along with his longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian operative with suspected ties to Russian intelligence.
Both were charged with obstructing justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice by using intimidation or force against a witness, and also with tampering with a witness, victim or informant.
Friday's indictment adds to the list of charges against Manafort, who is currently awaiting trial in federal court in both Washington, D.C., and Virginia.
He faces felony charges for acting as an unregistered foreign agent and lying about his work in the U.S. for Ukrainian politicians, as well as for a laundry list of financial crimes including bank fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering.
Meanwhile, Trump's longtime fixer Cohen is under criminal investigation in New York for financial crimes, including potential bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations. His home, hotel and office were raided by the FBI in April.
As lawmakers and legal experts have noted, leaving the possibility of a pardon on the table could be Trump's way of discouraging his allies from cooperating with investigators or agreeing to a guilty plea in exchange for testimony.
In March, the New York Times reported that Trump's former lawyer John Dowd had broached the idea of a pardon with lawyers for Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, raising the question of whether pardons were offered to the duo to "influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation."
Whatever Trump's intentions are, Manafort sure seems to think a pardon is in store for him. According to CBS News, he is "betting his future on a presidential pardon."
Manfort reportedly "expects" that Trump will grant him a pardon, which may explain why he has refused to cooperate with investigators in the Russia investigation, even as other top Trump associates have pleaded guilty.
However, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said the new witness tampering charges suggest that Manafort is getting desperate and resorting to highly unusual and risky methods to evade the other charges he's facing.
These latest charges "could obviously put additional pressure on Manafort that could lead him to flip," Mariotti said.
And that may be exactly why Trump wants Manafort to know that the possibility of a pardon is still on the table — even though legal experts say that could bolster the obstruction case against Trump.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.