Manafort sentencing prompts Trump to claim vindication. But president misstated judge's declaration.

The president again slammed the special counsel's Russia investigation as a "Witch Hunt Hoax."
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during the first meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, on March 6, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

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By Dartunorro Clark

President Donald Trump, after his former campaign chairman was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for tax and bank fraud, said Friday that those involved in Paul Manafort's case affirmed there was "no collusion" with Russia.

"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. But the Witch Hunt Hoax continues as you now add these statements to House & Senate Intelligence & Senator Burr. So bad for our Country!" Trump tweeted.

Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before his trip to Alabama to tour storm-damaged areas, Trump repeated that the "judge said there was no collusion with Russia," adding that he feels "very badly" for Manafort.

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But that's not what the judge overseeing the case said.

Before announcing Manafort's sentence Thursday, Judge T.S. Ellis reminded the court that the longtime political operative's crimes were not related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s chief mandate — Russian election interference and whether Trump campaign officials colluded with the Kremlin.

Manafort, a longtime Republican political operative, received 47 months behind bars, far less than the sentence called for under federal sentencing guidelines.

Manafort was convicted last August in Virginia federal court on eight felony counts — five counts of tax fraud, one count of failure to file a report of foreign bank and financial accounts and two counts of bank fraud. The judge declared a mistrial on the 10 other charges he faced. Manafort faces a second sentencing hearing in federal court in Washington, D.C., on March 13 on two conspiracy counts.

Kevin Downing, Manafort's defense attorney, made a brief statement after the hearing ended on Thursday.

"There is absolutely no evidence that Paul Manafort was involved with any collusion with any government official from Russia," he told reporters.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is chaired by GOP Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, wrapped up its Russia investigation in February and said it uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia after two years and 200 interviews.

House Republicans announced last year they had found no evidence of collusion, but their report came under swift criticism as a partisan result that excluded Democrats.

However, since regaining control of the House, Democrats have launched several probes that include examining any links between Russia and the Trump campaign as well as if Trump broke the law while in office.