Accuracy in Media

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post misled readers in a story Wednesday about Paul Manafort’s sentencing before D.C. Circuit Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

As Jackson sentenced Manafort to 43 months in prison – most to run concurrent with a sentence he received from another judge in Virginia last week – she pointed to remarks in the sentencing memo his attorneys wrote stressing that this case had nothing to do with collusion with Russia.

The assertion is important because the crimes for which Manafort was being sentenced date back more than a decade, but they were discovered in the process of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump team and the Russian government during the presidential campaign and in his first days in office.

Trump and others have made it a priority to point out the crimes for which Manafort was sentenced have nothing to do with collusion with Russia and should not be seen as furthering the narrative the president or his allies colluded with Russia, as Democrats have charged and Mueller has attempted to prove.

Jackson did say “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is also not accurate because the investigation is still ongoing,” but Mueller has signaled ahead of his report that no collusion was found, and Democrats dropped plans to impeach Trump this week in large part because the case has dried up.

But she did take exception to Manafort’s attorneys devoting much of a sentencing memo for a trial that examined other wrongdoing to pointing out the case had nothing to do with Russian collusion.

“She said the ‘no collusion’ mantra is bunk,” Blake wrote in “Paul Manafort’s judge strongly rebukes Manafort’s – and Trump’s – ‘no collusion’ refrain.” Blake’s lead said the judge’s remarks “struck at the core of President Trump’s personal defense in the Russia investigation.” It did not address Trump’s personal defense at all.

What she did reject was the notion that since no collusion has been proven involving Manafort or Trump that this should be a mitigating factor in Manafort’s sentencing for the “matters at hand.

“The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non sequitur,’” the judge said.

Blake wrote that claiming there was no collusion “as a defense” – which Manafort’s attorneys did not do – “is within any defendant’s rights. It’s basically saying, ‘There was no crime.’” No, it was asking the judge to consider the alleged crime that brought the matter at hand to the court’s attention has been basically disproven.

“The problem with Trump and his allies – and Manafort’s legal team, in this case – was that they have tried to stretch it much further,” Blake wrote. “They have argued that the lack of proof of collusion thus far is somehow dispositive. They are suggesting that, because it hasn’t been proved, it never happened.”

Blake ignores that he is suggesting it did happen without any proof.

Blake wrote that Trump pulled the same stunt when the special counsel announced indictments of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for meddling in the campaign. A statement from Sarah Sanders on behalf of the president said the investigation “further indicates there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected.”

In announcing the indictments, Rod Rosenstein, No.2 at the Department of Justice at the time, said Trump officials who did communicate with the troll farms did not realize they were talking to Russians, which exonerates them from collusion in that instance.

Rosenstein also said there was “no allegation in the indictment of any effect on the outcome of the election,” but Sanders saying the findings indicate “the outcome of the election was not changed or affected” was somehow false. “He didn’t say there was definitively no impact,” Blake wrote in February 2018.

“The media has been pointing out for months that Trump is overselling all of these examples,” Blake wrote, referring to the numerous and growing pile of evidence that no collusion occurred. “But on Wednesday, a judge whose job it is to decide people’s guilt or innocence put it on the record.”

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