President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he's never discussed pardoning his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but it's "not off the table," the AP reports. In an interview with the New York Post, Trump asked rhetorically: "Why would I take it off the table?" The comment drew swift condemnation from a top Senate Democrat and it renewed concerns from Trump critics that the president would wield his vast pardon power to protect his friends and supporters caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The comments came just days after Mueller's team said Manafort had breached his plea agreement by repeatedly lying to investigators on a variety of topics, an allegation Manafort denies.
In recent weeks, the president, armed with inside information provided by Manafort's legal team to Trump's lawyers, has seized on what he believes are dirty tactics employed by the special counsel, accusing investigators of pressuring witnesses to lie. In the interview with the Post, the president also praised conservative author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, who has recently rejected a plea offer from Mueller's team. Trump said Corsi, Manafort and his longtime associate Roger Stone are "very brave" for resisting Mueller's investigation. In response to Trump's comments Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia tweeted that the presidential pardon power is not a "personal tool" that the president can use to protect "himself and his friends." (Manafort reportedly met with WikiLeak's Julian Assange in 2016.)