WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort, who guided President Donald Trump’s campaign through the tumultuous Republican National Convention in 2016, faces a potentially stiff prison sentence Thursday for a raft of financial crimes that were prosecuted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Trump’s former campaign chairman was convicted in August in federal court in Alexandria, Va., on eight charges of tax evasion and bank fraud. The jury deadlocked on 10 related charges.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III could send the 69-year-old Manafort to prison for the rest of his life. Prosecutors say federal guidelines call for a sentence between 19 and 25 years.
In a sign of Manafort’s deep legal troubles, the hearing is only the first of his two sentencing dates. He faces a second sentencing March 13 from U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington.
Manafort pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiracy in September to avoid a second trial in Washington after he was convicted in Virginia. He has been in jail since last summer, when Jackson revoked his bail after ruling he had reached out to potential witnesses in the case.
All the criminal charges against Manafort stemmed from his work on behalf of Ukraine’s former pro-Russian government, although some of the crimes were carried out while he also managed Trump’s campaign for several months in 2016.
In the Virginia trial, prosecutors detailed how Manafort used a network of offshore bank accounts and other schemes to avoid paying millions of dollars in federal income taxes.
When his client, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown in a popular uprising in 2014, Manafort turned to bank fraud to maintain an opulent lifestyle that included custom-tailored clothes, seven homes and luxury cars.
Mueller’s team initially focused on Manafort as part of its investigation into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with a Russian intelligence operation that sought to sway the 2016 election to Trump, using stolen emails and disinformation on social media.
In June 2016, Manafort joined Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, in a meeting in Trump Tower in Manhattan with a woman identified to them as a “Russian government attorney.”
Before the meeting, when an intermediary’s email said the lawyer would present dirt on Clinton “as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Trump Jr. replied, “If it’s what you say I love it.”
No charges have been filed in connection with the meeting, and Trump’s allies have said no incriminating information was provided. Trump’s critics have said the campaign should have called the FBI to report the Russian offer.
Two months later, Manafort and Trump’s deputy campaign chairman, Richard Gates, met with Konstantin Kilimnik at a posh New York cigar bar. Mueller’s prosecutors later disclosed in court papers that Kilimnik “has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”
Manafort shared polling data with Kilimnik, then lied about it even after he agreed to cooperate with the investigation.
Those lies and others led to the implosion of Manafort’s plea deal, which he reached after he was convicted in Virginia. The deal had required him to cooperate truthfully with the special counsel’s office.
Prosecutors have urged the judge to impose a tough sentence.
“Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” the special counsel’s office wrote in its sentencing memo. “The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.”
Manafort’s lawyers argued that “the special counsel’s attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts.”
They also suggested that prosecutors pressured Manafort to provide evidence against the president in the Russia investigation, and urged the judge to spare him jail time.
Mueller’s “strategy in bringing charges against Mr. Manafort had nothing to do with the special counsel’s core mandate _ Russian collusion _ but was instead designed to ‘tighten the screws’ to compel Mr. Manafort to cooperate and provide incriminating information about others,” the lawyers wrote.
Trump has repeatedly said that his former campaign chairman was treated unfairly by prosecutors, and he’s left open the possibility of issuing a pardon before he leaves office.
As the jury in Virginia was considering a verdict, Trump told reporters at the White House that “it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”
By Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times