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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he feels “very badly” for Paul Manafort after his former campaign chairman was convicted on eight felony counts in his federal bank and tax fraud trial.
Trump called it a “sad thing that happened” and said the verdict had nothing to do with him and “nothing to do with Russian collusion.”
“I feel badly for Paul Manafort, I must tell you, he was a great man, he was with Ronald Reagan and many people over the years, and I feel very sad about that. It doesn’t involve me, but I still feel it is a very sad thing that happened,” he said after landing in West Virginia for a campaign rally. “This has nothing to do with Russian collusion.”
Trump added of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, “It’s a witch hunt and a disgrace.”
The president did not answer shouted questions about his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to eight counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations, including two counts related to hush-money payments made to women “at the direction of” Trump.
A federal jury in Virginia convicted Manafort on eight felony counts on Tuesday, but the judge declared a mistrial on the 10 other charges he faced.
Manafort was found guilty on five counts of tax fraud, one count of failing to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts and two counts of bank fraud. A mistrial was declared in three counts of failing to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, and seven counts of bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy.
In June, Trump had called the case against Manafort “very unfair.”
At that time, after Manafort was ordered to a Virginia jail following allegations of witness tampering, Trump claimed Manafort had limited involvement with his 2016 presidential campaign.
“You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time,” Trump said. “Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. But I tell you, I feel a little badly about it. They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago.”
Manafort joined the campaign in March 2016, became chair in May and resigned in August 2016.
At a nearly 90 minute campaign speech Tuesday evening, Trump touched on topics ranging from the NFL to the EU — but avoided addressing the Manafort or Cohen developments directly.
Instead, the president stuck within his comfort zone, attacking the media and accusing them of promoting fake news on the “Russian witch hunt.”
“Where is the collusion?” he asked. “They are still looking for collusion, where is the collusion? Find some collusion.”
As the legal woes of Trump’s former aides dominated headlines outside the venue, Manafort and Cohen were far from the minds of voters inside it.
“I just don’t care about that stuff” said Dee Dotson, a resident of Charleston, when asked about Cohen and Manafort. “As long as the economy keeps doing good and Trump keeps bringing coal back, I’ll keep voting for him,” she said.
Trump wasted no time pivoting to Hillary Clinton’s comments on the dying coal industry in 2016 — with the mention of Clinton’s name drawing “lock her up” chants from the crowd.