WASHINGTON - Judge Amy Berman Jackson made a series of strong statements before sentencing President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, on Wednesday. But one in particular struck at the core of Trump’s personal defense in the Russia investigation.
She said the “no collusion” mantra is bunk.
Manafort’s legal team had suggested repeatedly in its sentencing memo that the fact that Manafort hadn’t been found to have colluded with Russia should be a mitigating factor when it came to how much time he would serve in prison.
But Jackson not only rejected that argument in sentencing him to 43 additional months in prison; she said Trump’s favorite catch phrase is simply false.
“The ‘no collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to matters at hand,” she said, adding: “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non-sequitur.”
Then she added: “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is also not accurate, because the investigation is still ongoing.”
To claim something like there was “no collusion” as a defense is within any defendant’s right. In this case, it translates to, “I’m innocent.” The problem with Trump and his allies, and Manafort’s legal team, in this case, was that they have tried to stretch it much further than that. They have argued that the lack of proof of collusion thus far is somehow dispositive.
They are suggesting that, since it hasn’t been proven, it never happened.
Trump has tried this trick repeatedly for months, both misleading and misrepresenting statements by key players in the Russia probe. When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced indictments of Russians involved in influencing the 2016 election last year, he emphasized that those specific indictments included no allegations of collusion. Trump and the White House suggested that Rosenstein had essentially just exonerated his campaign, when in fact the case simply wasn’t about collusion.
The Post’s fact checking earlier this week documented other recent examples. Late last month, Trump took Michael Cohen’s testimony that he hadn’t witnessed any collusion to wrongly suggest Cohen had said it never happened.
At Manafort’s other sentencing last week, Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing argued that there was no collusion, and the judge said the case wasn’t about collusion. Trump responded by tweeting this:
“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,” he said. “But the Witch Hunt Hoax continues as you now add these statements to House & Senate Intelligence & Senator Burr. So bad for our Country!”
The media has been pointing out for months that Trump is over-selling all of these examples. But on Wednesday, a judge whose job it is to decide people’s guilt or innocence put it on the record.
“Court is one of those places where facts still matter,” she said, adding at another point: “If the people don’t have the facts, democracy can’t work.”
It’s like she was speaking directly to the man whose campaign Manafort once ran.
Aaron Blake is senior political reporter, writing for The Fix.