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Trump Says Wouldn't Rule Out Pardoning Former Aide Targeted In Russia Probe


Paul Manafort arrives for arraignment on a third superseding indictment against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of witness tampering, at U.S. District Court in Washington on June 15.

U.S. President Donald Trump says he will not rule out pardoning his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who this week became the renewed target of a special investigation into ties between Russia and his 2016 campaign.

Trump told the New York Post in an interview published on November 28 that he had not "discussed" pardoning Manafort, "but I wouldn't take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?"

Manafort was convicted of bank and tax fraud this summer, and in September he pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy charges leveled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading an investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Manafort, 69, faces years -- even decades -- in jail, particularly since a cooperation agreement he signed with prosecutors fell apart this week. Manafort had been cooperating with Mueller since September in hopes of a lighter sentence.

But Mueller informed a U.S. court on November 26 that Manafort had violated the cooperation deal by lying repeatedly to prosecutors.

Manafort denied lying or breaching the agreement, but he agreed to face immediate sentencing for his crimes. Without a pardon, former prosecutors say he could spend the rest of his life in jail.

Manafort was facing the possibility of 10 years in prison for his conviction on bank- and tax-fraud charges, and the two charges he has pleaded guilty to both carry five-year sentences.

Former prosecutors have said that Manafort's move to break off his cooperation deal with Mueller this week may be aimed at currying favor with Trump and increasing his chances of getting a pardon.

Trump, who has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia and frequently calls the Mueller probe a "witch hunt," has lauded Manafort as a "very good person."

Trump has made clear he would consider granting pardons to aides who remain loyal to the White House. Several top aides have been indicted by Mueller besides Manafort.

In one sign that Manafort may be angling for a presidential pardon, media reported on November 28 that Manafort's attorney has been briefing White House lawyers on his client's discussions with prosecutors, giving them valuable insights into Mueller's lines of inquiry.

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said that if Trump pardoned Manafort, it would be a "blatant and unacceptable abuse of power."

Senator Mark Warner said in a tweet that the president's pardon power is not a "personal tool" that Trump can use to protect "himself and his friends."

In the Post interview, Trump praised two other supporters who are caught up in the Russia probe -- conservative author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone. He said they were "very brave" for resisting Mueller's investigation.

Both men have been highly critical of the investigation, and Corsi this week said he had rejected a plea deal offered by Mueller's team. Draft plea documents seen by media show that Mueller has accused Corsi of lying to investigators -- an allegation he denies -- about e-mails he exchanged with Stone regarding WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign.

U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that Russia was the source of hacked material from Democratic organizations that WikiLeaks released at critical junctures in the weeks before the election. They included thousands of stolen e-mails from the private account of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Clinton has blamed the leaks in part for her unexpected loss to Trump in the election.

Mueller is investigating whether Stone, Corsi, or any other Trump associates had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks' plans.

With reporting by AP, AFP, New York Post, The New York Times, and Reuters
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