Trump claims Manafort case shows 'no collusion' with Russia


Washington (AFP)

US President Donald Trump declared a victory Friday in the Russia collusion investigation after his former campaign chief received an unexpectedly light sentence in a high-profile case brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

"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," Trump tweeted.

Judge T.S. Ellis did not actually say that and neither did Manafort's lawyer, Kevin Downing.

What the judge said before sentencing Manafort to nearly four years in prison on Thursday was that he was not before the court on any allegations of collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Following the sentencing, Manafort's lawyer said there was "absolutely no evidence that Paul Manafort was involved with any collusion with any government official from Russia."

He did not address the wider question of whether any other members of Trump's election campaign may have been involved with Russia.

That is the subject of the investigation by Mueller, a former FBI director.

Speaking later to reporters, Trump said he "feels very badly for Paul Manafort."

"I think it has been a very tough time for him," he said.

Manafort, 69, who headed Trump's presidential campaign for two months in 2016, was sentenced to 47 months in prison on Thursday for tax and bank fraud crimes which were unrelated to his campaign work.

Trump has denounced Mueller's investigation on multiple occasions and he repeated his criticism Friday, calling it a "Witch Hunt Hoax."

"So bad for our Country!" he said.

Trump has dangled the possibility of pardons for some of those indicted by Mueller -- including Manafort.

Manafort could have faced up to 24 years in prison, but Judge Ellis said he found that "excessive" and sentenced him to 47 months in prison with nine months of credit for time served.