US President Donald Trump has said he feels “very bad” for his ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort, a day after he was sentenced to a prison term.
Mr Trump erroneously told reporters the judge in the case had said there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“It’s a collusion witch hoax,” the Republican president said as he left the White House.
Manafort, 69, was found guilty of tax and bank fraud.
As he left to see tornado damage in the US state of Alabama, the president again denied his campaign had colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 White House election.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort,” Mr Trump told reporters. “I think it’s been a very, very tough time for him.”
Former lobbyist Manafort was convicted last year of hiding $55m (£42m) from US tax authorities that he was paid for political consulting on behalf of pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine.
During sentencing on Thursday, Manafort’s judge noted the charges were not related to alleged Russian meddling.
That led to Mr Trump claiming vindication on Friday morning, wrongly asserting that the judge had gone further and ruled out any collusion.
The Republican president told reporters he felt “very honoured” by the judge’s comments.
“The judge said there was no collusion with Russia,” said Mr Trump. “This had nothing to do with collusion. There is no collusion. It’s a collusion hoax, it’s a collusion witch hoax.”
“I don’t collude with Russia,” he added.
When asked by a journalist if he had considered a pardon for Manafort, Mr Trump said: “I don’t even discuss it, the only one discussing it is you.”
Manafort is one of six former Trump aides who have been indicted by US Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry.
They have been charged with lying to authorities, among other counts, but none has been charged with conspiracy related to any plot to subvert American democracy.
After a 22-month investigation, the special counsel is expected soon to submit his report to the US attorney general.
The political world is feverishly anticipating findings on whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia, or if Mr Trump himself unlawfully sought to obstruct the inquiry.
Earlier on Friday, the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani lambasted prosecutors for their handling of the case.
“They should be ashamed of their horrendous treatment of Paul Manafort,” Mr Giuliani said in a text message to a reporter from PBS.
He said Mr Mueller’s investigators had pressured Manafort relentlessly because “he wouldn’t lie for them”.
Source : BBC