Minutes after former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was sentenced to an additional 43 months in prison for conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice, his attorney Kevin Downing falsely told reporters outside the courthouse that the judge in the case had exonerated the Trump campaign of collusion with Russia.
“Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case,” Downing said, inaccurately paraphrasing remarks made by Judge Amy Berman Jackson. “So that makes two courts, two courts have ruled ‘no evidence of any collusion with any Russians.’”
As he tried to continue with his statement, Downing was aggressively shouted down by onlookers yelling things like “Liar! That’s not what she said!” and “you’re not lawyers, you’re liars!”
Indeed, Downing was not telling the truth. Jackson did not exonerate the Trump campaign of collusion — not at all.
Instead, she merely pointed out that the question of whether Trump’s campaign “conspired or colluded” with Russia “was not presented in this case.”
“The ‘no collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to matters at hand,” Jackson said. “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non-sequitur.”
“The ‘no collusion’ mantra is also not accurate because the investigation is still ongoing,” she added.
Jackson’s comments were similar to what Judge T.S. Ellis III said about collusion earlier this month, when he sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison for tax and bank fraud charges that were also brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Ellis pointed out that Manafort was “not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government.” His comments didn’t rule out that collusion happened, nor did it rule out that the Trump campaign may have been been involved in it.
Nonetheless, speaking outside the courthouse following that hearing with Ellis, Downing made misleading statements about collusion.
“There is absolutely no evidence that Paul Manafort was involved in any collusion with any government official from Russia,” he said.
Notably, Downing’s carefully worded remarks didn’t rule out that Manafort may have colluded with Kremlin allies who were not technically government officials — like Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime Manafort associate with ties to Russian intelligence with whom Manafort allegedly shared Trump campaign polling data.
The next morning, Trump spun the comments from Ellis and Downing in a tweet that misleadingly asserted that “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.”
That was not, however, what Ellis said. Like Jackson, Ellis merely pointed out that Manafort wasn’t appearing before his court for any crimes related to collusion with Russia.
Trump falsely claims the judge who sentenced Manafort exonerated him on Russia collusion
It’s possible that Downing’s comments on Wednesday were intended to serve as grist not only for Trump’s tweets but also for a pardon. Downing has reportedly kept in close touch with Trump’s attorneys behind the scenes, and on Tuesday White House press secretary Sarah Sanders acknowledged Trump hasn’t ruled out a pardon for his former campaign chair.
Indeed, during a White House event Wednesday afternoon, Trump falsely told reporters that Manafort’s second sentencing hearing exonerated him of collusion.
“That was proven today — no collusion,” Trump said. “There was no collusion… it was all a big hoax… Today, again, ‘no collusion.’”
Trump could pardon Manafort for his federal crimes and the seven-plus years he’s set to serve in prison for them. But shortly after Jackson handed down her sentence on Wednesday, prosecutors in Manhattan indicted Manafort on 16 felony charges in New York state. Trump’s pardon power can’t do anything to help Manafort there.
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