Trump’s new ‘proof’ of exoneration in Russia scandal is imaginary

 msnbc.com  03/14/2019 12:00:51   Steve Benen

Judge Amy Berman Jackson couldn’t have been much clearer yesterday. As Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, sat in her courtroom awaiting sentencing on the many felonies for which he was convicted, the district court judge went out of her way to separate the proceedings from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russia scandal.

“The question of whether there was any collusion with Russia … was not presented in this case, period, therefore it was not resolved one way or the other by this case,” the judge explained. Jackson went on to effectively mock Manafort’s attorneys for peddling an irrelevant “no collusion” argument that, as she put it, was both a “non sequitur” and “unrelated to the matters at hand.”

She went on to question the accuracy of the “ ‘no collusion’ mantra,” since the special counsel’s investigation is ongoing.

Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, heard all of this and proceeded to lie to reporters anyway, telling assembled journalists outside the courtroom, “Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case.” The absurd falsehood may have been intended to improve the odds of a presidential pardon, but it didn’t make his comments any less foolish.

That said, the intended audience for the lawyer’s falsehood apparently received the message. Donald Trump told reporters during a brief Q&A at the White House yesterday:

“I can only tell you one thing again that was proven today, no collusion. There’s no collusion. There is no collusion and there hasn’t been collusion and it was all a big hoax and you know it. […]

“It was a hoax. It was all a big hoax. And now you are seeing it. Today again no collusion. The other day no collusion. There was no collusion.”

In all, he used the word “collusion” six times in 79 sentences, suggesting this is less of a talking point and more of a nervous tic.

The president wasn’t explicit about what he was referring to, but his multiple references to “today” suggested he was claiming vindication in Judge Jackson’s remarks at sentencing.

In other words, a federal judge said the case had nothing to do with question of collusion; she conspicuously rejected the “ ‘no collusion’ mantra”; and Trump apparently thought it wise to publicly declare that she’d said the opposite.

And if this seems at all familiar, it’s because the Republican has peddled the same lie before, repeatedly pointing to sources that have exonerated him, overlooking the fact that they have not, in reality, exonerated him.

As we discussed last week, Trump claimed that the House Intelligence Committee had completely exonerated him in the Russia scandal. That wasn’t true.

Trump then said the Justice Department inspector general’s office had “totally” exonerated him in the Russia scandal. That was both wrong and kind of bonkers.

He then claimed that the Senate Intelligence Committee had also exonerated him in the Russia scandal. That also wasn’t true.

After Michael Cohen’s public congressional testimony, Trump said his former fixer agreed that there was no collusion. In reality, what Cohen testified was that he didn’t have any direct evidence of cooperation between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign, though Cohen added that he believes Trump is “capable” of having committed the crime.

The president convinced himself that Judge T.S. Ellis exonerated him, which did not happen, and yesterday he suggested Judge Amy Berman Jackson endorsed the White House talking points, despite the fact that she specifically made clear she was doing nothing of the kind.

I can appreciate why the president is scared of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but he may want to consider how much better off he’d appear if he stopped lying so frequently about an exoneration that hasn’t happened.

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