President Donald Trump called his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort a “very good person” and criticized his trial on bank fraud and money laundering charges, as a jury began a second day of deliberations on a verdict.
“I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad,” Trump told reporters Friday before departing the White House for a fundraiser in New York. “I think it is a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short period of time. But, you know what, he happens to be a very good person. And I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”
Trump declined to say whether he would pardon his former aide if convicted. Yet, his commentary about an ongoing criminal case before a jury marks a sharp departure from presidential norms guarding against political interference with the judicial process.
Manafort is the first person to be tried as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Mueller’s prosecutors have alleged that Manafort, before joining Trump’s campaign, for years hid millions of dollars in income earned from pro-Russia clients in Ukraine in foreign bank accounts while fraudulently obtaining bank loans to support an opulent lifestyle.
The charges Manafort faces are unrelated to his work for Trump’s campaign. Trump has repeatedly denied his campaign colluded with Russian efforts to manipulate the outcome of the election and regularly calls Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.”