Sometimes people don’t wait for the fact-checkers to ask. Sometimes they just shout their corrections in real time.
This happened on March 13, during remarks on the steps of the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C.
It came when Kevin Downing, the attorney for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, addressed reporters and onlookers moments after his client had been sentenced by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to an additional 43 months in prison for illegal lobbying and hiding the proceeds.
The sentencing by Jackson was Manafort’s second in just a few days. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis earlier handed down a 47-month sentence in a separate case tried in Virginia.
In his remarks outside the D.C. courthouse, Downing said, “Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case. So that makes two courts. Two courts have ruled no evidence of any collusion with any Russians.”
Observers on the scene were having none of it.
“That’s not what she said!” said someone as Downing continued speaking. “You guys aren’t lawyers, man, you’re liars!”
We found that the hecklers were correct in saying that Downing misquoted and misinterpreted the judge’s words. (We reached out to Downing but didn’t hear back.)
The Jackson sentencing
First, some background on why “no collusion” is an important point.
One of the biggest arguments President Donald Trump has made in defending himself against investigations by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is that there was “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and agents of Russia.
If Trump could get a federal judge — or two — to give their imprimatur to that assertion, it would be a persuasive talking point.
In her remarks from the bench, Jackson made a point of pushing back against the “no collusion” argument she read in the defense’s sentencing memorandum.
“The ‘no collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to the matter at hand,” she said, adding, “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non sequitur.”
She also said, “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is also not accurate, because the investigation is still ongoing.”
So, contrary to Downing’s remarks, Jackson didn’t give Manafort a clean bill of health on alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia. Instead, she said it wasn’t at issue in the cases that reached her courtroom.
So what about Downing’s assertion that another court had also given its stamp of approval to the “no collusion” argument? That’s incorrect, too.
He was presumably referring to the earlier sentencing by Ellis in the Virginia case. In fact, Downing made that case in a statement to reporters on the courthouse steps after Ellis handed down Manafort’s sentence.
“There is absolutely no evidence that Paul Manafort was involved in any collusion with any government official from Russia,” Downing said.
Soon after, Trump cited Ellis and Downing as support for the “no collusion” thesis in a tweet. “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. But the Witch Hunt Hoax continues as you now add these statements to House & Senate Intelligence & Senator Burr. So bad for our Country!” Trump tweeted.
But that isn’t what Ellis said, either.
Here’s the relevant portion of what Ellis said, according to the official court transcript: “He is not before the court for any allegation that he or anybody at his direction colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election.”
To emphasize the point, Ellis repeated it shortly thereafter. “He’s not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government to influence this election.”
Downing said that Jackson “conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case. So that makes two courts. Two courts have ruled no evidence of any collusion with any Russians.”
Neither Jackson nor the judge in the other case, Ellis, said anything of the sort. To the contrary, they went out of their way to state the opposite. The street fact-checkers were right. We rate Downing’s statement Pants on Fire.