On Friday morning, the jury in Paul Manafort’s trial was in its second day of private deliberations when the defendant’s former boss thought it’d be appropriate to weigh in on the developments. From a brief Q&A with reporters on the White House’s South Lawn:
Q: Mr. President, will you pardon Paul Manafort? Will you pardon Paul Manafort if he’s convicted?
TRUMP: I don’t talk about that, no. I don’t talk about that. I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad. When you look at what’s going on there, I think it’s 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.
Just so we’re clear, when the president said he thinks it’s “sad” what “they’ve done” to Manafort, he was specifically referring to federal law enforcement – whose case against the former Trump campaign chairman is ongoing.
Soon after on Friday, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing told reporters, “[I]t’s great to have the support of the President of the United States.” But therein lies the problem: Trump isn’t just the defendant’s former employer; he’s also the nation’s chief law enforcement official. Offering “support” during legal proceedings isn’t how this is supposed to work.
Since when does a sitting president vouch for the accused during jury deliberations? A jury whose members are not sequestered?
Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, whom you’ve probably seen Rachel interview on the show, appeared on MSNBC on Friday to comment on Trump’s latest breach of legal norms.
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.
The third day of jury deliberations are poised to begin this morning. Watch this space.