Trump says former campaign chief Manafort ‘good person’

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Washington, Aug 18 (IANS) US President Donald Trump on Friday defended his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as a “good person”, as a jury at a Virginia federal court entered the second day of deliberations in Manafort’s bank and tax fraud trial.

“I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad,” Trump told reporters in White House before departing for fundraising events in New York.

“He worked for me for a very short period of time,” Trump said of Manafort. “He happens to be a very good person,” Xinhua reported.

The president did not give an answer when asked if he is prepared to pardon Manafort, a veteran lobbyist who joined Trump’s campaign team in March 2016 and spent three months as Trump’s campaign chairman until mid August of that year.

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After a full day Thursday, the six-man, six-woman jury had not reached a verdict on the 18 criminal charges of bank and tax fraud Manafort is facing. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

“You may deliberate as long or as little as you wish,” U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III told the jurors on Friday morning before they resumed deliberations behind closed doors.

However, the trial “might end soon”, Ellis told reporters later.

Manafort, 69, is the first member of Trump’s election team to face trial on charges arising from the ongoing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. general elections.

The charges largely stem from Manafort’s time working for a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine before the 2016 election. But the trial is being seen as a key test of the strength of Mueller’s investigation, which is probing alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

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Trump has repeatedly called the probe a “witch hunt” that has not found evidence of Russian collusion with his campaign, and his lawyers are urging the special counsel wrap things up.

Manafort is also facing a separate trial in Washington D.C. on charges of money laundering and fraud conspiracy, which is scheduled for September.

–IANS

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