Written by Sharon LaFraniere
A federal judge nearly doubled the prison sentence of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to 7 1/2 years on Wednesday, denouncing him as a man who “spent a significant portion of his career gaming the system.”
Minutes later, the Manhattan district attorney filed a raft of state criminal charges, including mortgage fraud, that could ensure Manafort remains behind bars even if Trump decides — as he has appeared to hint — to pardon Manafort for his crimes. Convictions for state crimes are not subject to federal pardons.
The proceedings amounted to a wrenching defeat for the 69-year-old Manafort, who came to his sentencing confined by gout to a wheelchair and pleading for probation so he could spend his final years with his wife.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson of U.S. District Court in Washington expressed scant sympathy for his plight. Rather, she closed out the highest-profile prosecution brought by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, with a blistering critique of Manafort’s character and a rapid-fire litany of his legal and ethical transgressions.
She said Manafort had used his many talents as a strategist to evade taxes, deceive banks, subvert lobbying laws and obstruct justice — all so he could sustain an “ostentatiously opulent” lifestyle with “more houses than a family can enjoy, more suits than one man can wear.”
Ever since his initial bail hearing, she said, he had misled her and the prosecutors, part of what she called his determined efforts to obscure the facts. Even on his sentencing day, she said, he appeared to be making a play for a presidential pardon by wrongly suggesting he was merely the victim of overzealous prosecutors who had hoped to prove the Trump campaign had conspired with the Russian government to tilt the 2016 election.
“The defendant is not public enemy number one, but he is also not a victim either,” Jackson said.
But she stopped short of giving Manafort the maximum 10-year term she could have levied, adding 3 1/2 years to the nearly four-year term Manafort received last week in a related prosecution in Alexandria, Virginia. Explaining why she was not harsher, she cited guidelines designed to limit punishment in overlapping cases and the fact Manafort’s effort to tamper with witnesses who could testify against him had been “nipped in the bud.”
Her attitude was a far cry from that of U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Northern Virginia, who said last week that Manafort had “led an otherwise blameless life” in sentencing him to 47 months for eight felonies, a punishment that some legal experts described as startlingly low.
In an apparent reference to Ellis, Jackson noted that she was bound strictly by the case in front of her. “What is happening today is not and cannot be a review and a revision by a sentence imposed by another court,” she said.
But she described the evidence as overwhelming. “It is hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud and the amount of money involved,” she said. “There is no question that this defendant knew better and he knew what he was doing.”
Outside the courthouse, Manafort’s lead lawyer Kevin Downing described Jackson’s decision as “such a callous, harsh sentence that is totally unnecessary.” Downing, who was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, called it was a “very sad day.”
Manafort’s defense lawyers had repeatedly suggested that their client would be a free man had he not worked for the Trump campaign for five months in 2016, implying that Mueller’s investigators pursued him for crimes unrelated to the campaign only because they hoped to use him as a steppingstone in the Russia inquiry.
Jackson firmly dismissed that argument, noting investigators often find evidence of unrelated crimes in the course of inquiries, and “the perpetrators uncovered that way do not get a pass.” She said the argument was aimed at “some other audience,” not her.
The judge accused Manafort of a pattern of sleight of hand throughout the criminal proceeding against him, including wrongly inflating his assets in a bail hearing and exaggerating the harshness of his conditions in jail. She suggested he had sought to outmaneuver prosecutors by agreeing to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with them, then backtracking and lying to the special counsel’s office and a grand jury.
“Was he spinning the facts beforehand to get a good deal, or was he spinning them afterwards to protect others?” she asked. “We don’t know.”
Even his apology for his crimes rang somewhat hollow, she said, because it appeared to be prompted by Ellis’ criticism that he did not seem sufficiently contrite during last week’s sentencing.
Each conspiracy charge considered at Wednesday’s hearing carried a maximum prison term of five years. But because the underlying conduct for one conspiracy count was much the same as the bank and tax fraud scheme for which Manafort was convicted in Northern Virginia, Jackson cut his punishment for that charge in half, to 30 months. “He cannot be sentenced for those components twice,” she said.
She sentenced him to 13 months on the second conspiracy charge, which involved obstruction of justice, saying his efforts to influence the testimony of witnesses had largely come to naught because the witnesses had rebuffed him.
In requesting probation, Manafort noted that he will turn 70 in two weeks and had already been stripped of his wealth. “Please let my wife and I be together,” he said. “I am a different person than the one who came before you in October 2017,” when he was first indicted.
Much of the hearing in Washington focused on Manafort’s violations of the law requiring foreign lobbyists to disclose their activities in the United States — probably because the other charges had been aired at length in the Virginia case.
Andrew Weissmann, the lead prosecutor, said Manafort and others, at his behest, secretly lobbied for the government of Viktor F. Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president who led Ukraine from 2010 to 2014. Manafort hired a team of people, including former European politicians, who lobbied for the interests of Yanukovych’s government while presenting themselves as independent experts.
“This deliberate effort to obscure the facts undermines our political discourse,” Jackson said.
Jackson tends to be relatively lenient on convicted criminals who appear before her. In the five years that ended in 2017, she handed down an average prison sentence of just 32 months, below both the Washington district’s 46-month average and the nationwide average of 47 months, according to court data maintained by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
But she also has gone out of her way to make clear that being well-connected earns no chits in her court. “She knows who commits white-collar crime,” said Heather Shaner, a Washington lawyer who represented an embezzler in her court. “And she thinks it’s perfectly fine to punish them if they commit a crime and hold them to a higher standard because they have the education, and because they have the wealth.”
The prospect that Trump could pardon Manafort has hung over the proceedings for many months. Late last year, Trump said he “wouldn’t take it off the table.” More recently, he said, “I don’t even discuss it.”
Asked again after Wednesday’s sentencing, Trump said: “I have not even given it a thought, as of this moment. It’s not something that’s right now on my mind.” He added, “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort,” saying “certainly, on a human basis, it’s a very sad thing.”
The new charges filed in New York, in an indictment secured by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., apparently designed to ensure Manafort would be punished even if he is pardoned. They were rooted in the same financial fraud that led to Manafort’s downfall in federal courthouses. He is charged with falsifying business records to obtain millions of dollars in loans from two banks.
“No one is beyond the law in New York,” Vance said. He said his investigation had “yielded serious criminal charges for which the defendant has not been held accountable.”
While a spokesman for Manafort said he had no comment, some legal experts predicted that Manafort would challenge the new charges on the grounds of double jeopardy.