Manafort request for leniency met with a final sentence: 7.5 years

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced Wednesday to a total of 7.5 years in federal prison for financial crimes stemming from twin cases from the special counsel’s office.

Appearing at his second sentencing in as many weeks, Manafort switched gears from the contentious approach he and his attorneys had taken previously and apologized, asking for lenience and no additional prison time so he could take care of his wife. Instead, the judge gave Manafort a full rebuke for his public posturing and his crimes before delivering the sentence.

“There was no question this defendant knew better and he knew exactly what he was doing,” US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in the final minutes in court with Manafort Wednesday.

Jackson ordered Manafort to serve an additional 43 months on federal conspiracy and obstruction charges, on top of a 47-month sentence he already received for financial convictions from a jury in Virginia.

Manafort, 69, will get credit for nine months he’s already served in jail, and if he gets credit for good behavior, could be released from prison in about six years. He will also serve three years on probation and pay millions in restitution for tax fraud.

While some developments in Manafort’s case and at other Mueller sentencings have been surprising and dramatic, the proceeding Wednesday was low-key, though it covered a wide range of legal arguments.

After almost two hours of discussion, Jackson took a break then returned to the bench. She methodically outlined how the case took shape, landing her sentence after she described how Manafort deceived the American public, and how secret lobbying on behalf of foreign governments in the US hurts democracy.

Even after Manafort pleaded guilty and admitted to his crimes in September, he “backed away from the facts,” Jackson said.

“What you were doing was lying to members of Congress and the American public,” she told Manafort.

The biggest surprise came moments after the hearing adjourned, when the Manhattan district attorney revealed a new case against Manafort involving alleged business and mortgage fraud offenses in violation of New York state law — a set of 16 charges for which, if he is found guilty, could not be pardoned by President Donald Trump, who only has power over federal cases. Manafort has not yet appeared in court for that case.

Collusion not part of this case

After the sentencing, Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing criticized Jackson for what he perceived as hostility toward Manafort.

Yet throughout the hearing, Jackson gave credit to Manafort for pleading guilty and admitting to his crimes last fall, and made clear she was not judging Manafort as a person on the whole. She would not factor in the political hubbub around the high-profile case either, she said.

She did, however, acknowledge Manafort’s work on the Trump campaign, saying he brought intelligence, “real structure” and skill to his most recent campaign work.

Jackson noted several times during the hearing how Manafort’s case interplayed with Mueller’s investigation into Russian coordination with the Trump campaign in 2016 — and how it did not.

Collusion or conspiracy related to the election was “not presented in this case,” Jackson said Wednesday, “Therefore it was not resolved by this case … one way or another.”

She told Manafort that his lawyers’ arguments about the absence of any collusion charges were “just one more thing that’s inconsistent with the notion of any genuine acceptance of responsibility.”

In a plea cut in September 2018, Manafort admitted to money laundering, tax fraud and illegal foreign lobbying connected to his years of lucrative work for Ukrainian politicians, as well as defrauding banks to supplement his income with cash through mortgages.

He pleaded guilty to two criminal charges: conspiracy against the US and conspiracy witness tampering, which he committed after his arrest.

Jackson also considered that he intentionally lied to investigators and under oath before a grand jury about his contact with a Russian associate and other topics, breaking his plea agreement.

“Court is one of those places where facts still matter,” Jackson said. “If the people don’t have the facts, democracy doesn’t work.”

An apology

Manafort put on his glasses to read a prepared statement near the end of the hearing Wednesday.

“I am sorry for what I’ve done,” Manafort told the courtroom. “Let me be very clear, I accept the responsibility for the acts that caused me to be here today.” He described how his time in jail had changed him, and how if released after serving time he will be a different man.

“I pledge to do all I can to accelerate the healing process,” he said.

The statement was a departure from what he said to a different judge last week at his other sentencing hearing. In that proceeding, where he faced potentially more prison time, Manafort expressed regret but not remorse. (The judge in the Virginia case actually encouraged Manafort to show more remorse at his second sentencing in DC.)

Manafort’s court appearance came 17 months after the first indictment of Mueller’s special counsel investigation brought him in to face a judge and five months after his help to Mueller’s investigation fell apart.

Manafort was wheeled into the courtroom Wednesday wearing a suit and purple tie rather than the green inmate jumpsuit he wore to some previous court appearances. He reminded the judge that he will turn 70 in a few weeks.

“Please let my wife and I be together,” Manafort said. Throughout the proceeding, he sat still and with a frown, often avoiding the eyes of others in the courtroom with his wheelchair angled toward a wall. (He has needed assistance walking for months because of gout in his legs, which developed since he’s been in jail.)

The breadth of Manafort’s criminal activity — and his own written agreement with prosecutors — led to a recommended sentence more than double what Jackson gave him, for 10 years. Jackson also briefly revisited the long road — with many twists — that Manafort’s case has taken over several hearings and more than 500 court filings.

“He engaged in crime, again and again. He has not learned a harsh lesson,” lead prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told the court on Wednesday, referring to the witness tampering charge.

‘No collusion’

Throughout the proceeding, Jackson highlighted how much spin Manafort’s side had fueled political discussion over Mueller’s investigation with even their court papers.

She and prosecutors both accused him of using that approach to sidestep his crimes.

“No collusion,” Jackson said in court, was “a non-sequitur” used by the defense.

After the hearing, when Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing criticized Jackson for “callousness” on the courthouse steps.

“I think the judge showed that she is incredibly hostile towards Mr. Manafort and exhibited a level of callousness that I have not seen in a white collar case in over 15 years of prosecution,” he said.

His statement was nearly drowned out by protestors shouting “traitor” and “liar” outside the courthouse.

Prosecutors and Manafort’s defense team made their own arguments in court Wednesday for how harsh the judge should be.

Manafort’s lawyers sought to paint a sympathetic picture of their client as the target of the highest-profile Washington investigation in years.

“It can be very harsh. The media attention that comes along with it. The political [situation] is so unreal,” Downing said. “Everybody’s going nuts over this.”

Jackson seized on his insinuation and asked him to clarify if he meant that the prosecutors had been politically motivated. No, they had not, Downing said in court.

Even so, Manafort’s lawyers had tried to make that point several times in past court papers. They even cited for Jackson before today’s sentencing the lack of charges related to the 2016 presidential election.

Jackson, who has seen confidential information about Mueller’s investigation, acknowledged that the Russian collusion probe is not yet over. Some details in Manafort’s court file before her remain sealed because of this, and prosecutors made clear they are interested in Manafort’s contact with his longtime Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik.

Lobbying crimes

Manafort’s admitted crimes span a decade of lobbying activity but do not touch on his work as Trump’s campaign chairman.

His scheme, which he admitted to participating in with former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and Kilimnik, took in more than $60 million from pro-Russian Ukrainians. He then avoided paying taxes on those payments by using offshore accounts to move the money and buy luxury goods and services for himself and his homes. He also admitted to deceiving accountants, a bookkeeper and banks.

Manafort’s illicit lobbying efforts in the US largely involved the Ukrainian Opposition Bloc, the former Party of Regions and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose government jailed a political rival Manafort sought to smear in the US. Yanukovych now lives in exile in Russia. At one point, he brought elite European politicians to the US for a meeting in the Oval Office, without revealing they were advancing a foreign government’s agenda, the judge noted Wednesday.

Manafort’s criminal prosecution has led to several related criminal cases and investigations and a multimillion dollar Justice Department settlement with a US law firm for illegal lobbying for Ukraine.

It’s the second time in less than a week that Manafort’s been through this process.

His first sentencing, before federal Judge T.S. Ellis in the Eastern District of Virginia, concluded last Thursday with a term of about four years, which many critics of Manafort believed was too lenient.