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Trump says Manafort verdict doesn’t change Mueller ‘witch hunt’

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[WASHINGTON] President Donald Trump called the conviction of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort "a very sad thing" and again disparaged Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election as a "witch hunt."

Manafort was found guilty Tuesday on eight counts, including bank and tax fraud and failure to register a foreign bank account. Mr Trump called him a "good man" after arriving in West Virginia for a political rally.

Manafort's case had "nothing to do with Russian collusion" Mr Trump said, adding that the case "doesn't involve me."

"It's a witch hunt and a disgrace," he said.

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He didn't respond to questions from reporters about his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty in New York on Tuesday to eight counts including bank and tax fraud and illegal political contributions. Cohen said in court that an unnamed candidate directed him to violate campaign finance law.

The White House referred questions about Cohen's statement to Mr Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who called the president's former fixer a liar.

At a campaign rally in Charleston, West Virginia, Mr Trump mocked Mr Mueller's probe.

"Where is the collusion? Find some collusion. We want to find some collusion," he told his audience.

On the way to West Virginia aboard Air Force One, Mr Trump watched Fox News coverage of the Manafort verdict and Cohen's plea but didn't express much outward alarm, two people familiar with the matter said. One said Mr Trump asked aides how the news was playing.

Some of his aides and allies were more worried. Two of them said it was likelier Democrats would win the House of Representatives in November. Two others expressed concern for the country.

Steve Bannon, Trump's combative former strategist, put the stakes in sharp relief.

"Today clarifies that November is a referendum on impeachment - an up or down vote," he said in an email. "Every Trump supporter needs to get with the program."

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