President Trump on Friday defended his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as a “good person” even as a jury deliberates a verdict in his financial fraud trial.

Trump called the trial, the first stemming from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, “very sad.”

“He happens to be a very good person and it happens to be very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort,” the president told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for New York.

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The president would not give an answer when asked if he is prepared to pardon Manafort.

Trump’s defense of Manafort is unusual. The president has sought to distance himself from the one-time GOP lobbyist, ever since Manafort was ousted from the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016.

However, the president has stepped up his attacks on the Mueller probe, which he again labeled a “rigged witch hunt,” as it has closed in on members of his inner circle.

“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,” Trump said.

But Trump again sought to downplay Manafort’s role on his campaign, saying he only worked for him for a “very short period of time.” Manafort spent three months as Trump’s campaign chairman, including a critical stretch during the contentious Republican National Convention.

Trump’s comments came while a Virginia jury was deliberating behind closed doors for the second day in a row. The jurors met for roughly seven hours on Thursday but did not reach a verdict on the 18 criminal charges Manafort is facing.

Jurors are not sequestered but they have been instructed not to watch or read news reports about the trial.

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.

-Updated 12:05 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Paul Manafort Robert Mueller Special Counsel investigation Trials of Paul Manafort
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