In the world of alternative facts, context is your best road map. People may say things that are blatantly untrue — and when caught lying, say them again only louder (or, in the case of Twitter, in ALL CAPS) — but if you can at least understand why some umbrella salesman claims it’s raining outside when there’s hardly a cloud in the sky (or something like that). The point is that self-interest is almost always at the heart of alternative facts.

This lesson was writ large this week after Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, received a near-doubling down of his federal prison sentence on Wednesday, increasing from 47 months to seven and a half years the time he’s expected in lockup. What did his attorney, Kevin Downing, have to say about that when he spoke to reporters outside the Washington, D.C. courthouse where U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave the 69-year-old a major scolding to go with his prison time? He noted that the judge “conceded” that there was “absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case.”


Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chief, was charged with a laundry list of crimes by state prosecutors in New York on Wednesday — just minutes after his federal case wrapped up with a hefty prison sentence. 

Pardon? (But more about that in a moment.) Mr. Downing went further. He said the last judge to sentence his client, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III of Alexandria, Va., who gave him what many regarded as a too-modest sentence (with too little condemnation) last week, held the same opinion. “So that makes two courts, two courts have ruled ‘no evidence of any collusion with any Russians,’” he told reporters.

So here’s what’s important. First, neither judge said anything like that. In fact, the claim is so diametrically opposed to what the judges actually said that some people hanging outside the courthouse even shouted “That’s not what she said!” as he spoke to reporters about Judge Jackson. Check out the video. In both instances, the judges accurately observed that Mr. Manafort was neither convicted, nor was he being sentenced, for collusion.

Mostly, Mr. Manafort was convicted for financial fraud, conspiracy and obstruction, not for colluding with the Russian government. Indeed, “collusion” might be the most over-used (and legally meaningless) word to describe the myriad crimes still being investigated by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. Judge Jackson actually made a big point of that during sentencing. “The ‘no collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to matters at hand,” she noted, adding that the “no collusion” mantra was "just one more thing that's inconsistent with the notion of any genuine acceptance of responsibility" by Mr. Manafort.

So why would Mr. Manafort’s lawyer raise collusion yet again when it’s been so dismissed by the judge, given that it might have actually hurt his client at sentencing and the reporters all recognize that fact? Shouldn’t he have been more focused on, say, portraying his client as full of remorse over his tax evasion or hiding of foreign accounts or perhaps his money laundering and witness tampering? Well, if you don’t see where this is headed by now, you are no devotee of alternative facts.

Here’s a clue: President Trump was watching. He told reporters after the sentencing that he “feels badly” for Mr. Manafort and that “on a human basis, it’s a very sad thing.”

Rachel Marsden: The special counsel investigation could help end foreign influence-peddling.

Let’s put two and two together. Who constantly tweets the phrase “no collusion” (or, more likely, “NO COLLUSION!) and has the authority to pardon Mr. Downing’s client? That’s right. All that misquoting of the judges was done for one man’s benefit. He was just signaling that Mr. Manafort sings whatever tune Mr. Trump calls. The president always swoons over that kind of music. “‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ - make up stories in order to get a ‘deal,’” Mr. Trump tweeted last summer regarding his former campaign chair’s indictment. “Such respect for a brave man!”

Translation: Mr. Downing’s prevarications are meant to keep his client in line for a pardon about which Mr. Trump, incidentally, hasn’t “even given ... a thought as of this moment,” the president claimed Wednesday. (Insert eye roll here). Meanwhile, Mr. Manafort faces 16 new charges from the state of New York as of Wednesday (much of it revolving around phony information on loan documents) for which, if convicted, he can’t be pardoned by the president. So all that posturing may do Mr. Downing and his client little good. But at least it’s apparent why he has such a distorted view of the world — he was trying to align himself with the nation’s chief reality distorter.