Donald Trump and his campaign manager Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention, July 21, 2016
Donald Trump has lied about the 47-month prison sentence handed down to his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, falsely saying the judge declared there was no campaign collusion with Russia.
Manafort was sentenced on Thursday for his conviction on eight counts of financial fraud. Judge T.S. Ellis made clear that the charges were not in connection with claimed Trump links, which are being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller: “[He] is not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government to influence this election.”
In a Friday morning tweet, Trump twisted the remarks to say Judge Ellis had ruled out any possibility of campaign involvement with Russian officials in 2016: “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.”
Trump said to reporters, as he flew to Alabama: “The judge said there was no collusion with Russia.” Later in the day, he finally modified the remark to approach the truth: “The judge, for whatever reason, I was very honored by it, also made the statement that this [sentencing] had nothing to do with collusion with Russia.”
During his investigation, Mueller found evidence of Manafort’s hiding of income — reportedly up to $65 million — from international consultancy, including for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians and businessmen. Before the trial, Manafort’s lawyers asked Judge Ellis to drop the charges because they were not directly related to Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Ellis rejected their argument, saying Mueller simply “followed the money” from pro-Russian sources.
Mueller’s team are continuing investigation of Manafort for links with Russian officials. As campaign manager, he conferred with Konstantin Kilimnik, a former Russian intelligence officer who was a long-time business associate.
Manafort reportedly offered private campaign information, including polling data, to Kilimnik, who was suspected of still operating for Russian agencies. The two men also discussed a pro-Russian political initiative for initiative for Ukraine, where Moscow had occupied Crimea in 2014 and supported separatists in the east of the country.
The discussions with Kilimnik continued after Manafort’s departure from the campaign in August 2016, because of revelations of his financial affairs, and into 2017.