President Donald Trump will “make his decision” on whether to pardon his former campaign chief Paul Manafort “when he’s ready,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday.
The comments from Sanders, delivered at the first official White House press briefing in six weeks, appear to signal a development in the president’s thinking on the issue of pardoning Manafort.
The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request to clarify the president’s views on pardoning figures related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Trump has previously floated the possibility of issuing presidential pardons to Manafort and other associates. But just days earlier, the president told reporters outside the White House that he had not discussed pardoning Manafort, who was convicted last year on tax and bank fraud charges lodged by Mueller and is set to receive his final prison sentence this week.
“I don’t even discuss it. The only one discussing it is you,” Trump said Friday.
Trump has often criticized Mueller’s probe of Russian meddling and possible Trump-campaign collusion in the 2016 election, calling it “illegal” and a “witch hunt.”
In November, Trump said in a New York Post interview that a pardon for Manafort “was never discussed,” but added that he “wouldn’t take it off the table.”
“Why would I take it off the table?” Trump asked rhetorically.
At the previous press briefing in late January, Sanders said she was “not aware” of whether Trump had ruled out a pardon for Republican operative Roger Stone, a longtime friend of Trump’s who had just been indicted by a grand jury on charges lodged by Mueller.
“I’m not aware of that. I haven’t had any discussions with him on that matter,” Sanders said. She later added: “I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals that are just ridiculous and things I haven’t talked about.”
But when asked during Monday’s briefing why Trump has not yet ruled out a pardon for Manafort, Sanders responded: “The president has made his position on that clear and he’ll make a decision when he’s ready.”