President Donald Trump weighed in Friday to the sentencing of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort by twisting a federal judge’s words to claim that there was no collusion with Russia in the 2016 campaign.
“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,” Trump said in a Friday morning tweet.
“The judge said there was no collusion with Russia,” Trump later told a gaggle of reporters, before leaving the White House to meet with victims of deadly tornadoes in Alabama.
Facts First: The judge said no such thing. He noted that Manafort wasn’t accused of collusion and that the trial focused on unrelated financial crimes. But the judge did not declare that there was no collusion in 2016.
Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced Manafort on Thursday to serve nearly four years in prison for a vast financial fraud scheme. But Manafort “is not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government to influence this election,” Ellis said.
Ellis later repeated that Manafort “is not before the court for any allegation that he or anybody at his direction colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election.”
The judge never said during the three-hour hearing that there had been “no collusion” between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Ellis presided over Manafort’s fraud case in the Eastern District of Virginia. He has not been involved in Mueller’s investigation of potential collusion in 2016.
Later with reporters on Friday, Trump correctly said, “The judge, for whatever reason, I was very honored by it, also made the statement that this had nothing to do with collusion with Russia.”
Throughout the trial, Ellis made it apparent that he wanted to separate the whole issue of Russia and collusion from the facts surrounding Manafort’s financial crimes.
Manafort was convicted in August of eight counts of financial fraud. He committed some of those crimes — bank fraud, tax fraud and hiding foreign bank accounts – while he was running Trump’s campaign. But the charges weren’t tied to his work for Trump or the 2016 election.
Before the trial, Manafort’s lawyers asked the judge to drop the charges because they weren’t directly related to Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Ellis rejected their argument, saying at the time that Mueller simply “followed the money” from pro-Russian sources to Manafort. He specifically reminded Manafort’s defense lawyers of that decision at the sentencing hearing.
Ellis was appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. During his career, Ellis has established himself as a cantankerous yet witty ringmaster in the courtroom.
This story has been updated.