WASHINGTON — President Trump expressed sympathy for his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort after he received a second federal prison sentence on Wednesday. Though Trump described the situation as “very sad,” he said he had not thought about pardoning Manafort and was not aware of new charges filed in New York state.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort,” Trump said before going on to note his former staffer’s work for other prominent Republicans.
“I think it’s a very sad situation,” Trump added. “Certainly, on a human basis, it’s a very sad thing.”
The president addressed Manafort’s case in response to questions from reporters at the White House, where he was holding a briefing on drug trafficking along the southern border. Trump’s appearance came a few hours after a federal judge in Washington sentenced Manafort to 73 months on two conspiracy counts stemming from numerous crimes, including failing to register for his foreign lobbying work and witness tampering. The judge’s ruling came one week after a federal judge in Virginia sentenced Manafort to 47 months for financial crimes related to his lobbying work in Ukraine.
In total, Manafort is set to spend up to seven and a half years in prison because the first 30 months of both sentences will overlap. He could be released earlier based on credit for time served and good behavior.
In response to a question about whether the president would consider a pardon that could spare Manafort from prison, Trump said, “I have not even given it a thought as of this moment. It’s not something that’s right now on my mind. I do feel badly for Paul Manafort. That I can tell you.”
Yet even if Trump were to pardon Manafort for federal crimes, his former campaign manager could end up in prison based on state charges, which would be beyond the president’s purview.
Shortly after Manafort received his second sentence on Wednesday afternoon, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced he was charging the president’s former campaign chair with mortgage fraud and more than a dozen state felonies in New York.
In a news release about the charges against Manafort, Vance suggested they were designed to prevent him from escaping punishment.
“No one is beyond the law in New York,” Vance said.
Trump was also asked about the state charges by reporters at the White House.
“I don’t know about that,” Trump said.
At his sentencing in Washington, Manafort apologized and requested leniency, pointing out that he is 70 and that his wife is also a senior citizen.
“Please let my wife and I be together,” Manafort pleaded.
The federal charges against Manafort came out of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian intervention in the 2016 election. That probe has led to convictions against several former Trump campaign aides. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the Mueller investigation as a witch hunt. The president has also repeatedly claimed there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.
As she sentenced Manafort in Washington, Judge Amy Berman Jackson noted that the issue of “collusion … was not presented in this case.”
The judge indicated she was not satisfied with Manafort’s apology and accused him of trying to avoid punishment, including through his outreach to witnesses. She criticized the defense’s efforts to say Manafort’s conduct, which was not directly related to his work on the Trump campaign, was uncovered only through the Mueller probe. Jackson also chided Manafort’s attorneys for noting that Mueller didn’t prove collusion in the case and said the phrase “no collusion” is “simply a non sequitur.”
One of Manafort’s lawyers, Kevin Downing, nevertheless attempted to revive the argument as he spoke to reporters outside the courthouse.
“Two courts have ruled no evidence of any collusion with the Russians,” Downing said.
His remarks led to loud heckling from nearby protesters, who shouted “Liar!” and “That’s not what she said!”
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