President Donald Trump responded to news that his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight federal counts of bank and tax fraud on Tuesday.
Moments after exiting Air Force One in West Virginia where he was set to hold a rally, Trump said, “I must tell you that Paul Manafort is a good man. He was with Ronald Reagan, he was with a lot of different people over the years, and I feel very sad about that.”
“It doesn’t involve me, but it’s a very sad thing that happened,” Trump added, insisting that the Manafort case “has nothing to do with Russian collusion.”
“We continue the witch hunt,” Trump said, reprising his attack on the Russia investigation being led by the special counsel Robert Mueller before quickly walking away from the cameras.
Minutes before Trump’s remarks Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued a statement rejecting Trump’s going assertion that the Manafort trial and the broader Russia probe are a witch hunt.
The president ignored shouted questions from reporters about the other big news of the day: a plea deal his former longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, signed on to within minutes of the Manafort verdict.
Cohen testified under oath that Trump directed him to commit campaign finance violations during the 2016 election, and pleaded guilty to several other charges. The violations stem from six-figure payments Cohen made to two women who said they had sexual relationships with Trump in 2006.
Cohen paid $130,000 to one of those women, the adult-film star Stormy Daniels, to keep quiet about the affair. The other woman, Playboy model Karen McDougal gave her story to American Media, Inc., which is helmed by David Pecker, a friend of Trump and Cohen. McDougal’s story was never published.
Cohen also pleaded guilty to several counts of bank fraud and tax evasion. The president’s former lawyer said in court Tuesday: “I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”
Trump’s current personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said of the Cohen plea: “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen.”
Giuliani added: “It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen’s actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time.”
Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, suggested his client’s plea deal has everything to do with Trump.
“Today he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election,” Davis wrote Tuesday afternoon.
“If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”