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Trump sure sounds like he’s thinking about whether to pardon Paul Manafort

He’s making the case the prosecution was politically motivated.

President Donald Trump sure sounds like he’s thinking about pardoning Paul Manafort.

In an interview with Fox & Friends’ Ainsley Earhardt Thursday morning he responded to the key question — will he pardon his former campaign chair, convicted of eight counts of federal crimes on Tuesday? — by arguing, in essence, that the prosecution was probably politically motivated. The Justice Department, he said, seems “to like to go after a lot of Republicans.”

Here’s what Trump said when asked directly if he’d pardon Manafort:

I have great respect for what he has done in terms of what he has gone through. You know he worked for Ronald Reagan for years. He worked for Bob Dole. I guess his firm worked for McCain. He worked for many, many people, many, many years. And I would say what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does.

He claimed Hillary Clinton’s campaign had done worse than Manafort and didn’t face consequences, as evidence of the disparity. He called out the Podesta Group, specifically, which came under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

If you look at Hillary Clinton’s person, you take a look at the people that work for Hillary Clinton, I mean, look at the crimes that Clinton did. With the emails and she deletes 33,000 emails after she gets a subpoena from Congress, and this Justice Department does nothing about it? And all of the other crimes that they have done. And they — look at Podesta. Podesta was supposed to be Manafort on steroids. They made him close up his firm. He was going to be indicted the next day, we heard. Never happened. Instead, they go after Manafort.

Trump didn’t get into the argument that some conservatives have made about the political context of the prosecutions of Manafort and Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime fixer who also pled guilty to eight counts of federal crimes Tuesday: that the Justice Department wouldn’t normally have bothered to take up the cases without an interest in Trump.

Mueller would like the two men to cooperate in his Trump investigation, and a conviction that carries jail time could offer an incentive for the men to turn. But Trump did say he respected Manafort for going through the trial rather than flipping.

Trump’s play all along has been to discredit his own Justice Department

Trump had nothing but praise for Manafort in the interview. It’s striking how what he says about Manafort — a convicted felon — compared to what he says about his own Justice Department. He implied or outright said several times during the interview that the Justice Department is filled with Democrats biased against Republicans.

“If you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation,” Trump said. (Obama’s campaign paid a fine for a civil, not criminal offense.) “But he had a different attorney general and they viewed it a lot differently. We have somebody that they seem to like to go after a lot of Republicans.”

Later, he made the point again: “The Dems are very strong in the Justice Department,” Trump told Earhardt. “I put an attorney general who never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. Never took control of the Justice Department. It’s sort of an incredible thing.”

And again: “When you look at the corruption on the other side — and they refuse to look at anything,” Trump said, complaining about the FBI agents who sent anti-Trump text messages. “When you don’t look at [former FBI agent Peter] Strzok, where he said basically we’re going to take out the president, the insurance policy, and everything else. You look at Lisa Page, the two lovers back and forth with these horrible, these horrible texts. You look at the kind of talk going on about — it’s really a subversion. And our Justice Department doesn’t do anything about it.”

Earhardt asked Trump if he’d fire Attorney General Sessions, given all that. Trump didn’t give a straight answer to that question, either. But he got in one last shot: “When everybody sees what’s going on in the Justice Department — I always put justice now with quotes. It’s a very, very sad day.”

Trump has made cryptic comments about firing Sessions for months. He’s been incensed for a year that Sessions recused himself from questions about Russia and the campaign, setting in motion the Mueller investigation.

Trump didn’t say he will pardon Manafort. But he’s laying the groundwork for that option.