Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort faces a pair of sentencing hearings in the coming weeks in Virginia and in Washington | Keith Lane/Getty Images
The former Trump campaign chairman faced charges for tax fraud, bank fraud, unregistered lobbying for a foreign government and witness tampering.
By JOSH GERSTEIN
02/23/2019 02:46 PM EST
Updated 02/23/2019 03:44 PM EST
A federal judge should consider giving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort a sentence that would send him to prison for at least 17 and a half years, special counsel Robert Mueller said in a court filing made public Saturday.
That could amount to a life sentence for the 69-year-old Manafort, who became one of the most prominent targets of Mueller’s probe into alleged collusion between Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign and Russia.Story Continued Below
Manafort faces a pair of sentencing hearings in the coming weeks in Virginia and in Washington where judges will determine what punishment he should face in two separate criminal cases brought by Mueller’s office involving tax fraud, bank fraud, unregistered lobbying for a foreign government and witness tampering.
The latest submission from Mueller accuses Manafort of a bold, brazen and wide-ranging series of crimes carried out over decades and continuing while Manafort was managing the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016, although prosecutors seemed to avoid mentioning the president directly in their new filing.
“Manafort chose repeatedly and knowingly to violate the law—whether the laws proscribed garden-variety crimes such as tax fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and bank fraud, or more esoteric laws that he nevertheless was intimately familiar with, such as the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” prosecutors wrote.
“His criminal actions were bold, some of which were committed while under a spotlight due to his work as the campaign chairman and, later, while he was on bail from this Court,” they added.
In fact, Mueller’s team said, “Given the breadth of Manafort’s criminal activity, the government has not located a comparable case with the unique array of crimes and aggravating factor.”
The new court submission in Washington released on Saturday makes no explicit recommendation about how much prison time Manafort should serve, but urges U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to consider making the longtime political consultant and lobbyist serve a total sentence in the roughly 17-to-22-year range by making her sentence consecutive to one a Virginia judge is expected to impose ahead of her early next month.
Jackson has the power in her case to sentence Manafort to up to ten years: the maximum allowed by law for the conspiracy and obstruction of justice crimes he pleaded guilty to before her last year as part of plea deal.
Last week, Mueller’s prosecutors told U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria that sentencing guidelines applicable to Manafort’s case there call for him to serve between 19 and a half and 24 and a half years in prison. The prosecution team also made no explicit recommendation for a sentence in that case, beyond urging that the punishment be “serious” and adequate to deter others from similar conduct.
In theory, Ellis could sentence Manafort to as long as 80 years in prison on the charges of tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to report foreign bank accounts that he was convicted of at a high-profile jury trial last August.
However, judges typically sentence defendants in the range called for by the federal sentencing guidelines, which became advisory in 2005 as a result of a Supreme Court decision.
In urging a stiff sentence, Mueller’s team argues, in essence, that Manafort is incorrigible. They note that the court already found that after negotiating a plea deal late last year, Manafort repeatedly lied to prosecutors about his conduct, breaching the agreement.
“His deceit, which is a fundamental component of the crimes of conviction and relevant conduct, extended to tax preparers, bookkeepers, banks, the Treasury Department, the Department of Justice National Security Division, the FBI, the Special Counsel’s Office, the grand jury, his own legal counsel, Members of Congress, and members of the executive branch of the United States government,” prosecutors said. “In sum, upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism.”
Mueller’s office also said Manafort’s wealth, privilege and prestige left him with little argument for mercy from the court.
“Nothing about Manafort’s upbringing, schooling, legal education, or family and financial circumstances mitigates his criminality,” they wrote.
The new filing sent to Jackson Friday under seal and made public Saturday contains dense legal language urging her to use whatever sentence she imposes to make sure Manafort’s total punishment winds up in the guidelines range. Whether she decides to make her sentence consecutive to or concurrent with the other judge’s sentence could be crucial to the length of time Manafort actually serves.
“Under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines, courts are to structure the sentences on multiple counts of conviction to reach the total punishment called for by the advisory guidelines,” Mueller’s team wrote in a footnote at the very end of their submission. “The government submits that mode of analysis is applicable to whether the sentence should run concurrently or consecutively, in whole or in part, to that imposed in the EDVA [Eastern District of Virginia].”
Ellis is set to sentence Manafort on March 8, with Jackson following five days later.
Manafort has been in jail since last June, after Jackson deemed him a danger to the community due to a revised grand jury indictment charging him with witness tampering in the D.C. case. He’ll be entitled to time-served credit for the nine months or so he’s already spent behind bars, but that’s unlikely to put much of a dent in his overall sentence.
Of course, Trump has the power to wipe out some or all of Manafort’s federal convictions and to commute his prison term. While Trump has often expressed sympathy for Manafort, the president has been non-committal about a pardon or commutation.
Even if Trump grants clemency to Manafort, he could still face legal jeopardy. New York prosecutors are reportedly preparing charges against him there. A federal pardon would provide no protection against such a prosecution and Manafort’s admissions as part of the plea deal he eventually struck with federal prosecutors would be admissible against him.
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