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Legal Experts: Manafort's Light Sentence 'Tremendous Defeat' for Mueller

Legal Experts: Manafort's Light Sentence 'Tremendous Defeat' for Mueller

Thursday, 07 March 2019 10:11 PM

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced on Thursday by a U.S. judge to less than four years in prison - far shy of federal sentencing guidelines - for financial crimes uncovered during Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis imposed the 47-month sentence on Manafort, 69, during a hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, in which the veteran Republican political consultant asked for mercy but did not express remorse for his actions.

Ellis also ordered Manafort, who was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair, to pay a fine of $50,000 and restitution of just over $24 million.

Manafort was found guilty by a jury last August of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.

While prosecutors had not recommended a specific sentence, they had cited federal sentencing guidelines that called for 19-1/2 to 24 years in prison.

"Clearly the guidelines were way out of whack on this," Ellis said.

The sentence was even less than what defense lawyers had sought. They had asked Ellis to sentence Manafort to between 4-1/4 and 5-1/4 years in prison, writing in their sentencing memo that Mueller's "attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this court."

Some legal experts expressed surprise over the leniency of the sentence. "This is a tremendous defeat for the special counsel's office," said former federal prosecutor David Weinstein.

Manafort's sentence was less than half of what people who plead guilty and cooperate with the government typically get in similar cases, according to Mark Allenbaugh, a former attorney with the U.S. Sentencing Commission. "Very shocking," he said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, a former federal prosecutor himself, blasted the 47-month sentence.

“The American people would be justified in feeling that there has been some miscarriage of justice here in the leniency of this sentence,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal, who served as U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, noted Mueller's sentencing recommendation was at least 19 years in prison.

“Remember, those sentencing guidelines apply to all defendants," Blumenthal said on CNN. "And the judge really needs a good reason to go below them. The recommendation of 19 to 25 years is an assessment of the severity of these crimes.

"And what Paul Manafort did was, essentially, potentially, threaten our very democracy. The principles of our democracy. That’s the reason that he is in that courtroom. That’s the reason that he’s been convicted of these very serious crimes.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a 2020 presidential candidate, also slammed the sentencing for what she said appeared to be a double-standard.

Klobuchar, a former prosecutor for Minnesota’s most populous county, said his sentence was not treated "as seriously as crimes committed on a street corner."

“My view on Manafort sentence: Guidelines there for a reason. His crimes took place over years and he led far from a 'blameless life,'" Klobuchar tweeted.

"Crimes committed in an office building should be treated as seriously as crimes committed on a street corner. Can’t have two systems of justice!” she added.

Former CIA director John Brennan, meanwhile, called the sentence "mind-boggling" on MSNBC.

“It’s an extraordinarily lenient sentence in light of the extent and scope of Mr. Manafort’s criminality,” Brennan said. “I think this sentence says a lot more about Judge Ellis than it does about Paul Manafort.”

Brennan slammed Ellis' characterization of Manafort as seemingly blameless.

“That is just mind-boggling,” Brennan said. “Paul Manafort has a demonstrated track record of criminal, unethical, unprincipled behavior.”

Ellis, appointed to the bench by Republican former President Ronald Reagan, called the sentence "sufficiently punitive," but noted that Manafort's time already served would be subtracted from the 47-month sentence. Manafort has been jailed since June 2018.

The judge also noted during the hearing that Manafort "is not before the court for any allegations that he, or anyone at his direction, colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election."

Manafort faces sentencing in a separate case next Wednesday in Washington on two conspiracy charges to which he pleaded guilty last September. While he faces a statutory maximum of 10 years in the Washington case, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson potentially could stack that on top of the sentence imposed in the Virginia case, rather than allowing the sentences to run concurrently. Jackson was appointed by Democratic former President Barack Obama.

Before the sentencing, Manafort thanked Ellis for conducting a fair trial. He expressed no remorse but talked about how the case had been difficult for him and his family. Manafort, who opted not to testify during his trial, told the court that "to say I have been humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement." He described his life as "professionally and financially in shambles."

Manafort was convicted after prosecutors accused him of hiding from the U.S. government millions of dollars he earned as a consultant for Ukraine's former pro-Russia government. After pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's ouster, prosecutors said, Manafort lied to banks to secure loans and maintain an opulent lifestyle with luxurious homes, designer suits and even a $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket.

The judge told Manafort: "I was surprised I did not hear you express regret for engaging in wrongful conduct."

Manafort, with noticeably grayer hair than just months ago, was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair holding a cane, wearing a green prison jumpsuit emblazoned with the words "Alexandria inmate" on the back. It was a far cry from Manafort's usual dapper appearance and stylish garb. He has been jailed leading up to his sentencing.

'A LOT OF MONEY'

Ellis had faced criticism by some in the legal community for comments he made during the trial that were widely interpreted as biased against the prosecution. Ellis repeatedly interrupted prosecutors, told them to stop using the word "oligarch" to describe people associated with Manafort because it made him seem "despicable," and objected to pictures of Manafort's luxury items they planned to show jurors.

"It isn't a crime to have a lot of money and be profligate in your spending," Ellis told prosecutors during the trial.

His defense team argued for leniency because Manafort had agreed to cooperate with the prosecution after he was convicted - although Jackson ruled he breached that deal by repeatedly lying to prosecutors - and because his bid to secure a $5.5 million bank loan on fraudulent premises did not actually succeed.

Prosecutor Greg Andres urged Ellis to impose a steep sentence. "This case must stand as a beacon to others that this conduct cannot be accepted," Andres told the hearing on Thursday.

Manafort is the only one of the 34 people and three companies charged by Mueller to have gone to trial. Several others including former campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen have pleaded guilty, while longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has pleaded not guilty.

Trump, a Republican who has called Mueller's investigation a politically motivated "witch hunt," has not ruled out granting a presidential pardon to Manafort, saying in November: "I wouldn't take it off the table."

"There's absolutely no evidence that Paul Manafort was involved with any collusion with any government official from Russia," Kevin Downing, another Manafort lawyer, said outside the courthouse.

The Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, quickly accused Downing of making "a deliberate appeal for a pardon" from Trump.

Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani said after the sentencing: "I believe Manafort has been disproportionately harassed and hopefully soon there will be an investigation of the overzealous prosecutorial intimidation so it doesn’t happen again."

Jackson ruled on Feb. 13 that Manafort had breached his agreement to cooperate with Mueller's office by lying to prosecutors about three matters pertinent to the Russia probe including his interactions with a business partner they have said has ties to Russian intelligence.

Mueller is preparing to submit to U.S. Attorney General William Barr a report on his investigation into whether Trump's campaign conspired with Russia and whether Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction and Russia has denied U.S. intelligence findings that it interfered in the 2016 election in an effort to boost Trump.

The case capped a stunning downfall for Manafort, a prominent figure in Republican Party circles for decades who also worked as a consultant to such international figures as former Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and Yanukovych.

Manafort worked for Trump's campaign for five pivotal months in 2016 that included the Republican National Convention where Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, three of them as campaign chairman.

© 2019 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

   
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President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced on Thursday by a U.S. judge to less than four years in prison - far shy of federal sentencing guidelines - for financial crimes uncovered during Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into...
paul manafort, sentenced, 47 months, in, prison
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2019-11-07
Thursday, 07 March 2019 10:11 PM
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