President Donald Trump expressed sympathy for his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who was sentenced to four years in prison Thursday — but he also used the judge’s ruling to again claim there was no “collusion” with Moscow in 2016.
Trump also said Rep. Ilhan Omar’s recent comments show “the Democrats have become an anti-Israel party” and an “anti-Jewish party.” He called a resolution the chamber passed in the wake of the Minnesota Democrat’s remarks about politicians being influenced by Jewish donors a “disgrace.”
Democrats were quick to refute that contention.
“That is obviously false,” Alabama Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell said on CNN shortly after Trump spoke. “It is important that we lay down a marker that hate in all of its forms are unacceptable and un-American.”
But it was Manafort’s sentencing that the president appeared most eager to discuss on a cold and overcast late winter morning as he left in chinos, a white button-down shirt and a hooded black jacket with the presidential seal on his left breast.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort,” Trump told reporters Friday morning as he departed the White House to visit tornado-ravaged Alabama before a weekend at his South Florida resort. “I think it’s been a very tough time for him.”
His sympathy again raised the possibility he will pardon Manafort, something he has repeatedly refused to rule out.
Judge T.S. Ellis III did not state there was no collusion, merely saying Manafort was not facing such charges in his court. “He is not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government to influence the election,” Ellis said, according to reports.
But that did not stop Trump from contending over the hum of Marine One’s engines on the South Lawn that Ellis actually said he and Manafort had “nothing to do with collusion with Russia.”
“It’s a collusion hoax,” Trump said. “I didn’t collude with Russia.”
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Trump also downplayed a lower-than-expected jobs report — the economy created only 20,000 new jobs last month — by talking up the health of the stock market under his watch.
The president popped out of the White House residence a few minutes after his chief economic adviser, Lawrence Kudlow, also tried downplaying the jobs report, calling the new jobs figure a “very fluky number.”
“I wouldn’t pay any attention to it to be honest with you,” he said.
Kudlow also said Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping could meet later this month or early next month at Mar-a-Lago to discuss a trade deal — but there is “nothing in cement” yet.
The president implied that he expects better job growth once talks with Beijing either produce a deal or clarity about what happens if the two economic powerhouses cannot come to terms.
“I think you’re going to see a big spike [because] a lot of people are waiting to see what happens with the China deal,” he said. The same is true about whether Congress will approve a revised trade pact with Mexico and Canada, he added.
“The unemployment rate just went lower, down to 3.8 percent. So we have a very good vision,” Trump said, calling that part of the jobs report “great” news.
The president also said he remains optimistic about a trade deal with China — but he said he will walk away from ongoing talks rather than agree to a bad deal.
“If this isn’t a great deal,” the president said, “I won’t make a deal.”
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.