WASHINGTON | Claiming an exoneration that was not given, a “very honored” President Donald Trump is putting words in the mouth of the judge who sentenced former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to nearly four years in prison. Trump is misrepresenting a statement by Manafort’s lawyer, too.
TRUMP: “Both the Judge and the lawyer in the Paul Manafort case stated loudly and for the world to hear that there was NO COLLUSION with Russia.” — tweet Friday.
THE FACTS: This did not happen, loudly, quietly or at all.
The case in Virginia was not related to Manafort’s work on the Trump campaign and did not take up the question of whether the campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Manafort was convicted for tax and bank fraud related to his own work advising Ukrainian politicians.
Judge T.S. Ellis III neither cleared nor implicated the president, instead emphasizing that Manafort was “not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government.”
TRUMP: Manafort’s lawyer “went out of his way to make a statement last night, no collusion with Russia. There was absolutely none. The judge, I mean for whatever reason, I was very honored by it, also made the statement that this had nothing to do with collusion with Russia. So you know, keep it going. Keep the hoax going.” — remarks to reporters before leaving for Alabama.
THE FACTS: The lawyer, Kevin Downing, did not say there was no collusion with Russia. He only argued that no evidence emerged in the trial that his client, in particular, was involved in any collusion. The judge did say the trial was not about Russia, but that was not a statement of vindication for Trump or anyone else. It was a reflection of the nature of the unrelated charges against Manafort.
Whether the Trump campaign and Russia worked together to tilt the election toward Trump is a core issue in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which continues.
Like other Americans close to the Republican president who have been charged in the Mueller probe, Manafort hasn’t been accused of involvement in Russian election interference. But he has not been cleared of that suspicion, either.
For example, court papers in recent weeks revealed that Manafort shared polling data related to the Trump campaign with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate U.S. authorities say is tied to Russian intelligence. A Mueller prosecutor has said that an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the “heart” of the Russia probe.