Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He either lied about a federal judge, or got conned by a convicted criminal's lawyer.

At the White House today, in reference to the sentencing of his campaign chair Paul Manafort, Trump said this:

I have no idea, I can only tell you one thing again that was proven today: No collusion. There's no collusion. There's no collusion and there hasn't been collusion and it was all a big hoax.

His remarks came just a few hours after Manafort's attorney, Kevin Downing, speaking in public but addressing an audience of one, said this:

For anyone who was in the courtroom today, what I’m about to say will not be a surprise: Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case. So that makes two courts, two courts have ruled 'no evidence of any collusion with any Russians.'

In reality, moments before that, Judge Amy Berman Jackson had gone out of her way to say pretty much the opposite in her sentencing statement.

I also want to make clear from the start that the conclusion of this particular prosecution with the imposition of sentence today will not be a vindicatino of and will not incriminate anyone who is involved in or the subject of the ongoing investigation by the Office of Special Counsel. Notwithstanding the many references that pepper the sentencing memo, the question of whether there was or was not any coordination or conspiracy or any collusion between anyone associated with the presidential campaign was not presented in this case. Period. Therefore, it was not resolved one way or the other by this case. 
Also, this sentence will not be an endorsement of or an indictment of the mission or the tactics of the Office of Special Counsel.

Jackson then noted that Manafort's defense lawyers had rested heavily on the legally irrelevant question of whether it was fair for the Mueller investigation to charge Manafort with crimes uncovered during their probe of Russia's sabotage of the 2016 election on Trump's behalf. She continued:

The number of times the argument was repeated, notwithstanding the fact that it didn't have any bearing on the question at hand, suggests that it wasn't being repeated for the benefit of [the Court], but for some other audience
Finally, The "no collusion" refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is similarly unrelated to the matter at hand. The defense told me over and over "importantly" or "it is notable that" the defendant had not been charged with any crimes related to the primary focus of the special counsel's investigation. ...The "no collusion" mantra is simply a non-sequitur that doesn't bear on the question of the appropriate sentence. And it's not clear whether it's accurate, since the investigation is as yet unfinished and no report has been issued.

It's not clear whether Trump knew what Judge Jackson had said and was lying about it, or whether he was simply fooled by Downing's performance. Trump has been dangling pardons in front of many of his apparent co-conspirators, and has adamantly refused to rule out pardoning Manafort.

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents cannot change reality simply by claiming it is something else.
  • If this was Trump being manipulated, it was way too easy.