President Donald Trump won't say whether he will pardon Paul Manafort

David Jackson

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump would not say Friday whether he is considering a pardon for Paul Manafort, a day after his ex-campaign chairman was sentenced to nearly four years in prison over financial fraud crimes related to the Russia investigation.

"I haven't discussed it,” Trump said as he left the White House en route to Alabama to tour tornado damage, adding that journalists are the only ones discussing a possible Manafort pardon.

At the same time, Trump again denounced the investigation of his campaign's relationship with Russia as a "hoax" and a "collusion witch hunt." He also expressed sympathy for his ex-aide's plight, saying "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort."

In his first public comments since Manafort's sentencing, Trump argued the case proves his campaign did not work with Russia during the 2016 election.

Manafort was never charged with collusion. The allegations against him were related to his work for pro-Russian political interests in Ukraine.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, who had criticized Mueller's prosecutors during the Manafort trial, said at one point the defendant was “not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government to influence this election."

The judge did not say whether Manafort is being looked at for collusion in any separate case.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has not completed his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Members of congressional committees conducting their own investigations say there are many yet-to-be answered questions about Trump's relationships with Russia.

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'Humiliated and ashamed': Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison

As he left the White House en route to Alabama to tour tornado damage, Trump also:

– Said former lawyer Michael Cohen, who accused him of authorizing a scheme to pay hush money to an ex-mistress, did seek a pardon, contrary to his congressional testimony last week. Cohen "directly asked me for a pardon," Trump tweeted. "I said NO. He lied again! He also badly wanted to work at the White House. He lied!"

– Accused Democrats of becoming the "anti-Israel party, anti-Jewish party," citing comments by freshman U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

– Said trade talks with China are ongoing, and he will not sign any new agreement until it is "a great deal."

– Claimed the economy is "very, very strong," despite a dismal jobs report on Friday.

– Said his relationship with North Korea's Kim Jong Un "remains good," despite the collapse of last week's summit in Vietnam.

Manafort was sentenced to nearly four years in prison Thursday for financial fraud crimes related to the Russia investigation.

His 47-month sentence fell far short of federal sentencing guidelines, which called for a sentence of 19-to-24 years based on his criminal convictions.

Manafort's activities put him in the crosshairs of Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

On Thursday, Manafort apologized in court for his conduct.

“To say I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” he said in a barely audible voice, reading from a prepared statement.

Manafort likely faces more prison time. He is scheduled to be sentenced next week in a related case involving conspiracy charges for failing to report his lobbying work in Ukraine and tampering with witnesses.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: President Donald Trump won't say whether he will pardon Paul Manafort