JUDGE: ‘Saying, ‘I’m sorry I got caught’ is not an inspiring plea for leniency…’
(Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times) Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman for a brief period, had his prison term extended by 43 months Wednesday at his second sentencing in the highest-profile case prosecuted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
The new sentence means the former globe-trotting political consultant and Republican campaign stalwart, who turns 70 next month, will spend nearly seven years in prison on top of the time he has already served.
Minutes after U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson imposed the sentence, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced a 16-count indictment against Manafort alleging a years-long mortgage fraud scheme in New York.
Because Trump’s power to pardon people only extends to federal crimes, the new state charges mean Manafort is guaranteed to serve prison time if he’s convicted in the latest indictment.
“No one is beyond the law in New York,” Vance said in a statement.
During his sentencing hearing in Washington, Manafort offered an emotional apology and pleaded for leniency so he could “be together” with his wife.
“I am sorry for what I have done,” Manafort said from a wheelchair. He donned a dark suit to court, not the green inmate jumpsuit he wore in the past, and his once-black hair appeared nearly all gray.
“My behavior in the future will be very different. I have already begun to change,” he added, noting that nine months in jail have helped him reflect.
But Jackson scolded Manafort before she ruled, saying he “isn’t being straight with me now” about his crimes and had not shown any remorse until his final sentencing.
“Saying, ‘I’m sorry I got caught’ is not an inspiring plea for leniency,” she said.
In the earlier case, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III last week sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison for conducting a multi-million dollar financial fraud.
The criminal scheme extended through the 2016 presidential race but did not involve the Trump campaign that Manafort managed for about three months. Nor did the case directly involve the Kremlin-backed effort to sway the 2016 election, the primary focus of Mueller’s investigation.
Jackson appeared irked that Manafort’s lawyers repeatedly denied Russian collusion in her court as well.
“Any conspiracy, collusion … was not presented in this case,” the judge said. “Therefore it was not resolved by this case.”
The first sentence was widely criticized as lenient, but Ellis said Manafort had led an “otherwise blameless life” because he had no prior criminal record. Ellis called federal sentencing guidelines that recommended 17 to 24 years in prison “out of whack.”
In September, a month after Manafort was convicted in Ellis’ court, he pleaded guilty to two related counts of conspiracy in Jackson’s court in a plea deal to avoid a second trial. He faced a maximum of 10 additional years in prison for those crimes.
Jackson may have viewed Manafort’s conduct more harshly than Ellis. She ordered Manafort to jail in June for reaching out to potential witnesses in his case, and one of his conspiracy counts involved witness tampering.
Jackson also later agreed with prosecutors that Manafort voided his plea arrangement by repeatedly lying to Mueller’s team and a federal grand jury investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Manafort made “false statements to the FBI and false statements to the grand jury repeatedly,” Andrew Weissmann, the chief prosecutor, told the court Wednesday. “He engaged in crimes over and over again.”
Manafort’s work “was corrosive to faith in the political process, both in the United States and abroad,” Weissmann added.
His attempts to cover up his crimes by asking witnesses to lie for him, Weissmann said, “is not reflective of somebody who has learned a harsh lesson. It is not a reflection of remorse. It is evidence that something is wrong with sort of a moral compass.”
Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, argued that Manafort was a victim, saying he wouldn’t be in court if not for his “short stint” running Trump’s campaign. Downing asked Jackson to consider the political and media whirlwind that has buffeted the case.
“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.”
Mueller’s team has indicted or brought charges against 34 people so far but Manafort was the first person indicted and is the only one put on trial so far. Before joining Trump, Manafort had worked as a senior advisor in campaigns that sent Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush to the White House.
Several other Trump aides, including his former lawyer Michael Cohen and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, have pleaded guilty. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and Flynn is awaiting sentencing.
All the charges against Manafort stem from his efforts to hide tens of millions of dollars in income from his political consulting for Ukraine’s former pro-Russian government, and his subsequent efforts to support a lavish lifestyle back home.
He used offshore banks and phony companies to avoid paying $6 million in federal taxes, and then obtained fraudulent bank loans. He was convicted of eight charges of tax evasion and fraud after a trial last summer in Alexandria, Va.
Manafort’s lawyers rejected an offer by prosecutors to combine the two cases against him, so he faced one trial in Virginia and another in Washington.
After he was convicted in Virginia, he pleaded guilty in Jackson’s court in September to avoid a second trial and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s prosecutors as they gathered evidence.
But the plea deal fell apart when prosecutors accused him of continuing to lie during about 50 hours of interviews.
Jackson ended up agreeing with prosecutors that Manafort lied about, among other things, his conversations with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-born business associate who allegedly has ties to the Kremlin’s spy services.
Mueller’s team did not recommend a specific prison sentence before Wednesday’s hearing, but their sentencing memo said “for over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law” and urged the judge to “take into account the gravity of this conduct.”
Prosecutors said Manafort’s actions show “a hardened adherence to committing crimes and lack of remorse,” citing his attempts to obstruct justice and his lies even after they had negotiated a plea agreement.
Manafort’s lawyers described the prosecutors’ language as over the top.
“This case is not about murder, drug cartels, organized crime, the Madoff Ponzi scheme or the collapse of Enron,” they wrote in their own memo.
“There is no reason to believe that a sentence of years in prison is necessary to prevent him from committing further crimes,” the defense team wrote. “He poses no risk to the public.”
©2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.