President Donald Trump on Wednesday praised his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort as a “brave man,” saying that he “refused to ‘break’ ” during the prosecution that led to convictions Tuesday on eight tax- and bank-fraud charges in federal court.
In a series of tweets, Trump sought to contrast Manafort’s posture with that of Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and fixer, who on Tuesday entered a guilty plea in a Manhattan federal court on eight counts.
Some of those counts implicated Trump directly,with Cohen saying he arranged to pay off two women to keep their stories of alleged affairs with Trump from becoming public before Election Day – in coordination with the then-candidate.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” Trump wrote. “‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break.’ ”
“Such respect for a brave man!” Trump added in a tweet that is certain to raise speculation about whether the president might pardon Manafort at some point.
A jury in Alexandria, Virginia, convicted Manafort on eight of the 18 tax- and bank-fraud charges on Tuesday. The jury said it was deadlocked on the 10 others.
In his tweets, Trump seized on the counts on which Manafort escaped conviction.
“A large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case,” Trump said, adding: “Witch Hunt.”
Earlier in the morning, Trump broke his silence on the guilty plea by Cohen, writing his a wisecracking tweet that he would not recommend hiring him as a lawyer.
“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” Trump said on Twitter.
Trump later contested whether the campaign-finance counts to which Cohen plead where even valid.
Cohen has accused Trump of directing him to make payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels to keep them quiet ahead of the 2016 election. Both women have alleged that they had sexual affairs with Trump, which he has denied.
“Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime,” Trump wrote. “President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!”
Trump did not spell out what he was referring to regarding Obama. In 2013, his campaign was fined $375,000 by the Federal Election Commission for campaign reporting violations in 2008. It was one of the largest fees levied against a presidential campaign.
In his tweets, Trump also accused Cohen of having made up “stories in order to get a deal.”
In comments to reporters and during a freewheeling rally in West Virginia on Tuesday night, Trump avoided any mention of Cohen.
While in West Virginia, Trump offered brief comments on Manafort, whose case was unrelated to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russia interference in the 2016 election.
“Paul Manafort’s a good man,” Trump told reporters. The verdict, he said, “doesn’t involve me, but I still feel, you know, it’s a very sad thing that happened.”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · John Wagner