President Trump on Wednesday praised his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort as a “brave man,” saying he “refused to ‘break’ ” during the prosecution that led to convictions Tuesday on eight tax- and bank-fraud charges in federal court.
In tweets, Trump sought to contrast Manafort’s posture with that of Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer, who on Tuesday entered a guilty plea in a Manhattan federal court on eight counts.
Two 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 was certain to raise speculation about whether the president might pardon Manafort at some point.
During a later briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was not aware of any conversations about pardoning Manafort.
A jury in Alexandria, Va., convicted Manafort on eight of the 18 tax- and bank-fraud charges 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.”
Trump had previously criticized the prosecution of Manafort on charges unrelated to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian election interference, calling it a “hoax” in a tweet last month.
Earlier Wednesday morning, Trump broke his silence on the guilty plea by Cohen, writing in a wisecracking tweet that he would not recommend hiring him as an attorney.
“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” Trump wrote.
Trump later contested whether the campaign finance counts to which Cohen pleaded were 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.
During an interview with Fox News recorded Wednesday, Trump said he learned of the payments after they were made — an assertion at odds with Cohen’s account.
Trump also stressed that his reimbursements to Cohen came from his funds and not his campaign. Cohen said Tuesday that the payments were meant to sway the election, making them a campaign violation.
“My first question when I heard about it was, ‘Did they come out of the campaign?’ ” Trump said on Fox. “Because that could be a little dicey. And they didn’t come out of the campaign.”
On Twitter, the president contended the two counts of campaign finance violations to which Cohen pleaded “are not a crime.”
“President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!” Trump wrote.
Trump in his tweet did not spell out what he was referring to regarding former president Barack Obama, but he elaborated a bit more on Fox: “If you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation, but he had a different attorney general, and they viewed it a lot differently.”
In 2013, Obama’s 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 did offer brief comments on Manafort.
“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.”