Both of Paul Manafort’s prison sentences are in — and together, they add up to 7 and a half years, meaning he’s gotten the longest sentence yet for any defendant in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Paul Manafort to about six years in prison on Wednesday. This was Manafort’s second sentencing for charges brought by Mueller. Last Friday was his first: Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison for his conviction on tax and bank fraud charges, which was far lighter than many observers expected.
Some of Jackson’s sentence will be served concurrently with Ellis’s sentence. So in practice, Manafort’s two sentences end up totaling to 90 months — or, seven and a half years. (He has already served about 9 months of that, since he’s been jailed since last June.)
While Ellis oversaw a purely financial case, Jackson sentenced Manafort for charges of conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice, which Manafort pleaded guilty to. She also had to assess the question of whether Manafort lied to Mueller’s team after he had promised to cooperate with investigators — and determined he did so, on several topics.
All the charges brought against Manafort by prosecutors related to his past political and lobbying work for Ukraine’s pro-Russian political faction, his finances, or attempting to interfere with the investigation. He has not been charged with any criminal conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 elections.
One major question now is whether Manafort will get a pardon from President Trump. The president has already bemoaned his former aide’s treatment and called Manafort “brave” for not turning on him; Trump has also conspicuously declined to rule out pardoning him.
The hearing itself
At the hearing, Mueller’s team argued that Manafort’s offenses were indeed quite serious and deserved a tough sentence (though they did not recommend a specific one).
“He engaged in crime again and again,” said special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann. “He has not learned a harsh lesson. He served to undermine, not promote, American ideals of honesty, transparency, and playing by the rules.”
Weissmann observed that at the time Manafort tampered with witnesses, he was already “the former campaign chairman for a major political party, under indictment in two cases with a national spotlight on him.” This, he argued, was “evidence that something is wrong” with Manafort’s “moral compass.”
Defense lawyers responded by arguing that Manafort’s crimes weren’t so severe. Attorney Kevin Downing said that the “media frenzy” around the case has resulted in “a very harsh process for Manafort.”
“But for a short stint as campaign manager in a presidential election, I don’t think we would be here today,” Downing said. “I think the court should consider that.”
Manafort himself spoke for several minutes, professing that he was deeply sorry for his actions, that he’d attained “new self-awareness” from his time in jail, and that he has “already begun to change.”
But Jackson didn’t buy it. In announcing her decision, she made the following scathing comments:
- “It is hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud and the extraordinary amount of money involved.”
- “What you were doing was lying to members of Congress and the American public.”
- “The dissembling in this courtroom began with the bond proceedings and it never abated.”
- “Saying ‘I’m sorry I got caught’ is not an inspiring plea for leniency.”
- “It’s not particularly persuasive to argue that an investigation hasn’t found anything when you lied to the investigators.”
So why, then, did she not sentence him to the 10-year maximum she could have?
First, Jackson said, the conspiracy count against Manafort in DC overlapped with conduct he’d already been sentenced for in Virginia. Because of that, she said, much of her new sentence for that count — 2 and a half years — had to be served concurrently with the existing Virginia sentence.
So even though Jackson sentenced Manafort full a full five years for the conspiracy count, only 2 and a half years of that will be new time.
Then, on count two — witness tampering — Jackson sentenced Manafort for 13 months, to be added on top of everything else. She said that Manafort’s witness tampering didn’t involve threats and didn’t prove to be very consequential, so she gave him significantly less than the maximum for that.
Manafort’s complicated legal situation, explained
Manafort is a somewhat legendary Republican operative and lobbyist who spent a decade working for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before joining Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Because of his ties to pro-Russian interests, Manafort has long been a major figure of interest to investigators probing whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere with the election — and he ended up being the first person indicted by Mueller. His legal road since then has been long and winding:
- In October 2017, Mueller indicted Manafort and his longtime right-hand man Rick Gates in Washington, DC, for conspiracy and lobbying-related crimes related to their past Ukraine work.
- In February 2018, Mueller filed his second indictment of Manafort — this one in the Eastern District of Virginia, for tax, bank fraud, and other financial crimes. Shortly afterward, Gates “flipped,” striking a plea deal and cooperating with the government.
- In June 2018, Mueller added more charges in DC, alleging that Manafort and his Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik tried to obstruct the investigation through witness tampering. (As a result of these charges, Manafort was sent to jail, where he has been since.)
- Manafort’s Virginia case ended up going to trial first, and on August 21, a jury found him guilty on eight counts of filing false tax returns, bank fraud, and failure to report foreign assets. (The jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict on 10 other counts due to one holdout, and those charges ended up being dismissed.)
- After his conviction, Manafort agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors in DC, to avert that pending second trial. In the plea, he admitted all the charges against him were true, agreed to forfeit millions of dollars in assets, and committed to cooperating with the government.
- But in November, after Manafort had met 12 times with the government and appeared twice before Mueller’s grand jury, the government announced that they believed he’d breached his plea agreement by repeatedly lying to them on several different topics. And last month, Jackson sided with the government on most of those accusations.
- So now, Ellis and Jackson have both handed down their sentences — 47 months from Ellis, and 73 months from Jackson. However, 30 months of that will be served concurrently — meaning the sentence ends up being 90 months in total.
What Manafort is actually being sentenced for
The charges against Manafort in Virginia were in two parts. First, they alleged that in the years before he joined the Trump campaign, he’d gotten paid millions for his work for Ukrainian politicians. The, he moved $30 million of that money from foreign shell companies into the US — but he didn’t disclose this income on his tax forms, pay taxes on it, or fill out legally required disclosures of his foreign accounts. For all this, he was convicted on five tax charges and one failure to declare foreign accounts charge.
Second, Mueller’s team focused on what Manafort allegedly did once he lost his Ukrainian income after the country’s president was deposed. They claimed he tried to conjure up more cash via bank fraud — and was convicted on two counts for that.
Then in the District of Columbia, Manafort eventually pleaded guilty to a broad “conspiracy against the United States” — in which he admitted unregistered lobbying and money laundering related to the Ukraine work — as well as “conspiracy to obstruct justice” (his attempts to get witnesses to stick to a false story about that work). He also admitted to the truth of all the Virginia charges filed against him.
Finally, Jackson assessed Mueller’s accusations that Manafort lied during cooperation. She ruled that Manafort did indeed deliberately lie about a $125,000 payment made on his behalf, about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik (his longtime Russian associate), and about another Justice Department investigation.
What’s next for Mueller?
It’s widely believed in Washington that Mueller is close to finishing his investigation (even though his report keeps on not showing up).
Now the highest-profile defendant in the special counsel’s probe has been sentenced — twice — albeit not for any crimes directly related to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Hanging over the question of what comes next is the question of what, exactly, happened with Manafort’s cooperation.
It was widely speculated that Mueller’s purpose in charging Manafort was to pressure him to provide information about others — perhaps even President Trump. But it seems Manafort did not end up doing that.
During Manafort’s first sentencing last Friday, Mueller prosecutor Greg Andres told the judge that Manafort had not provided useful information during the 50 hours or so he’d spent meeting with investigators. “It wasn’t information we didn’t know,” Andres said, according to CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Josh Campbell.
So did Mueller need Manafort to make a case against someone else — and fail to make that case? Is he putting together that case through other means? Or has he concluded that there is no case to be made? The special counsel, of course, isn’t saying.
For more on the Mueller probe, follow Andrew Prokop on Twitter and check out innerdaily’s guide to the Trump-Russia investigation.