Tuesday 19 March 2019

Russia probe a 'collusion witch hoax', rants Trump

Alabama bound: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump and their son Barron Trump, walk to board Air Force One, en route to Lee County, where tornadoes killed 23 people. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Alabama bound: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump and their son Barron Trump, walk to board Air Force One, en route to Lee County, where tornadoes killed 23 people. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

John Wagner

US President Donald Trump has labelled the investigation into his links with Russia a "collusion witch hoax", in a rambling and inaccurate tirade on the White House lawn.

As Democrats decried the lenient sentencing of ex-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort as a "miscarriage of justice", the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee sent a scathing letter to its chairman Jerrold Nadler attacking the panel's motivations in investigating the president for abuse of power.

"Your investigation is an abuse of Congress's oversight power. Such an investigation serves only one of two possible purposes: either you intend to impeach the president, for alleged crimes that have yet to be discovered, or you intend to embarrass him," wrote Georgia representative Doug Collins.

The probe saw 81 members of the Trump inner circle sent letters earlier this week requesting private documents as it seeks to find out whether Mr Trump sought to obstruct justice by discredit FBI special counsel Robert Mueller into possible Russian election hacking.

As part of what is being viewed as an ongoing effort to persuade the public that his campaign did not collude with Russia, Mr Trump also dramatically misrepresented comments made by the judge who presided over the sentencing of Mr Manafort.

Mr Manafort was sentenced to nearly four years in prison on Thursday for cheating on his taxes and bank fraud. The case was prosecuted by special counsel Robert Mueller's office but was unrelated to his core mission of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

During Thursday's proceedings, US District Court Judge TS Ellis noted the distinction, saying that Mr Manafort was "not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government to influence this election".

In a tweet, Mr Trump incorrectly suggested that the judge's comments had cleared his campaign of wrongdoing.

"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," Mr Trump wrote. "But the Witch Hunt Hoax continues as you now add these statements to House & Senate Intelligence & Senator Burr. So bad for our Country!"

Mr Trump's tweet also referenced Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing, who told reporters outside the courthouse that "there is absolutely no evidence Paul Manafort worked in collusion with any government official from Russia".

Mr Trump's tweet prompted immediate pushback from politicians, including Senator Angus King,

"This case doesn't prove there was no collusion because that wasn't the subject of the trial," Mr King said.

At a trial last year, Mr Manafort was found guilty of hiding millions he made lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian politicians in overseas bank accounts, then falsifying his finances to get loans when his patrons lost power. Prosecutors highlighted his lavish lifestyle, saying his crimes were used to pay for high-end clothes and multiple properties.

Mr Manafort contends he is mere collateral damage in Mr Mueller's investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Mueller is expected to send a report in coming weeks to Attorney General William Barr regarding his findings related to election interference.

The House Intelligence and Senate Intelligence committees are continuing Russia- related investigations as well. Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate panel, who Trump referenced in his tweet, has said he has seen no direct evidence of collusion.

Earlier Mr Trump said he would be disappointed if North Korea were to resume weapons testing, and reiterated that he had a good relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

"I would be surprised in a negative way if he did anything that was not per our understanding. But we'll see what happens," Mr Trump told reporters. "I would be very disappointed if I saw testing."

The Republican president's comments come after a second summit between him and Mr Kim collapsed last week over differences on US demands for denuclearisation and North Korea's demand for sanctions relief.

Two US think-tanks and Seoul's spy agency said this week that North Korea was rebuilding a rocket launch site, and there have been reports of new activity at a factory that produced North Korea's first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

Irish Independent

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