WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump is claiming vindication in the sentencing of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, after a U.S. federal judge ruled Manafort should serve 47 months in prison for tax and bank fraud.
"I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. I think it's been a very, very tough time for him," said Trump as he departed the White House early Friday, en route to the state of Alabama to view damage from this week's deadly hurricane.
"But, if you notice, both his lawyer, a highly respected man, and a very highly respected judge — the judge said there was no collusion with Russia," the president said.
Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted that the Russia probe headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is a "collusion witch-hoax" and again denied that he colluded 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 8, 2019
On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III stated that Manafort was "not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government to influence this election," pointing out that Manafort was not on trial for the main focus of the Mueller probe — whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
In the sentencing, the judge did not specifically rule out the potential of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Substantially less sentence
Manafort's 47-month sentence is substantially less than the 19 to 21 years prosecutors wanted, which would have likely meant the 69-year-old Manafort would spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Ellis said the federal sentencing guidelines — and harsh punishment that Mueller recommended — were excessive.
Manafort was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair and supported himself with a cane. He appeared more worn and haggard than he did just a few years ago when he was one of the most influential Republicans in Washington.
While not apologizing for his crimes, Manafort told the judge Thursday that his life "professionally and financially is in shambles."
"To say I have been humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement," he said.
Along with the nearly four years in prison, Ellis also fined Manafort $50,000.
Manafort was charged with hiding from the government millions of dollars he earned as a lobbyist for Ukraine's former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych — meaning that was millions of dollars on which he paid no taxes.
Manafort also lied to banks to secure loans for his luxurious lifestyle, including large homes and designer clothes.
In addition, Manafort was convicted of separate federal charges of conspiracy and witness tampering. He is set to be sentenced next week.
The sentence for Manafort is a bit surprising because Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller in the Russia probe, hoping for a lighter punishment.
But another judge had ruled that Manafort lied to prosecutors in the Russia probe and violated his plea deal, saying he was no longer entitled to leniency.