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Hours before Paul Manafort went to jail, Trump said he had ‘nothing to do with our campaign’

"You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time."

CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Just hours before a federal judge on Friday morning ordered Paul Manafort to report to prison for witness tampering, President Trump attempted to distance himself from his former campaign chairman.

Asked about the legal troubles some of his former associates face during a press gaggle outside the White House, Trump said, “Well, I feel badly about a lot of them, but I think a lot of it is very unfair. I mean, I look at some of them where they go back 12 years.”

“Like, Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign,” Trump continued. “But I tell ya, I feel a little badly about it. They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago.”

Trump proceeded to offer a defense of Manafort’s character.

“You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time,” he said. “He worked for Ronald Reagan, he worked for Bob Dole, he worked for John McCain, or his firm did. He worked for many other Republicans. He worked for me for what? Forty-nine days or something? A very short period of time.”

Trump’s comments that Manafort’s alleged crimes have “nothing to do with our campaign” were in fact debunked months ago. In February, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted Manafort and his longtime associate, Rick Gates, of a money laundering scheme that allegedly continued through late 2017.

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Nonetheless, as early as October 2017 — while the Gates/Manafort money laundering operation was allegedly still active — Trump was using the talking point that Manafort’s wrongdoing occurred “years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.”

Even though the February indictment undercut one of the White House’s favorite talking points, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responded to the news with a blatant lie, saying, “Look, I think that those are issues that took place long before they were involved with the president, and anything beyond that, because those are active investigations, I’m not going to go any further than that.”

Not only did Manafort’s alleged criminal acts continue until well after the election, but according to a June 4 court filing, the witness tampering that will land Manafort in prison was also taking place well into this year.

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Trump’s comments on Friday were far from the first time he’s tried to distance himself from Manafort, who Trump would have you believe played nothing more than a minor role for a short period of time.

But Manafort led Trump’s presidential campaign throughout a crucial stretch of 2016 that surrounded the Republican National Convention. And Trump repeatedly praised Manafort’s work during the campaign, lauding him for doing “an amazing job” and being “a total professional” and “fantastic.”

During Friday’s press gaggle, Trump wouldn’t rule out the possibility of pardoning Manafort, telling reporters, “I do want to see people treated fairly, that’s what it’s about.”

Trump also defended former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, saying, “I feel badly for General Flynn. He’s lost his house, he’s lost his life. And some people say he did lie, and some people say he didn’t lie. I mean, really it turned out maybe he didn’t lie.”

One person who says Flynn lied is Flynn himself. In December, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with Russia shortly before Trump’s inauguration.

Meanwhile, Gates, Manafort’s longtime partner, is cooperating with prosecutors.