Manafort is sentenced to more than 7 years in prison for conspiracy and fraud

(Jose Luis Magana | AP file photo) In this May 23, 2018, file photo, Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the Federal District Court after a hearing in Washington. Manafort faces his second sentencing hearing in his many weeks, with a judge expected to tack on additional prison time beyond the roughly four-year punishment he has already received.

Washington • Paul Manafort received a sentence totaling 7 1/2 years in prison after being ordered by a federal judge in the District of Columbia to serve 43 months on top of the 47-month sentence the former Trump campaign chairman was given in Alexandria federal court last week.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson pushed back on defense attorneys’ repeated assertions that he was mere collateral damage in the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“This defendant is not public enemy number one, but he’s also not a victim either,” Jackson said. “There’s no question this defendant knew better, and he knew exactly what he was doing.”

The question of whether anyone in the Trump campaign "conspired or colluded with" the Russian government "was not presented in this case," she said, so for Manafort's attorneys to emphasize that no such collusion was proven, she said, is "a non-sequitur."

She added that the assertion may not even be "accurate" because the special counsel probe is not over and she found that Manafort lied to investigators about issues at the heart of their investigation.

"It's not appropriate to say investigators haven't found anything when you lied to the investigators," she said.

Manafort, 69, faced as many as 10 more years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States by illegally lobbying in Ukraine and hiding the proceeds overseas, then encouraging witnesses to lie on his behalf.

He apologized to the judge from a wheelchair to "all those negatively affected by my actions," acknowledging that he did not express such regret when sentenced days ago by Ellis for bank and tax fraud.

“Let me be very clear: I accept responsibility for the actions that led me to be here today, and I want to apologize for all I contributed to the impacts on people and institutions. While I cannot change the past, I can work to change the future,” Manafort said from a wheelchair, turning to face Jackson. “I want to say to you now, I am sorry for what I have done and for all of the activities that have gotten us here today.”

He added that nine months in solitary confinement after being jailed for witness tampering gave him “new self-awareness.”

Jackson said Manafort's crimes were "not just a failure to comply with some pesky regulations" but "lying to the American people and the American Congress. . . . It is hard to overstate the number of lies and amount of money involved."

His motivation, she added, was "not to support a family, but to sustain a lifestyle that was ostentatiously opulent and extravagantly lavish - more houses a family can enjoy, more suits than one man can wear."

But she agreed with Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Virginia, that sentencing guidelines in the case were excessive. She said that 30 months of her sentence must run concurrently to his Virginia term because the underlying conduct is the same.

Prosecutors questioned whether Manafort was capable of such change, depicting him as a a mastermind of a conspiracy in which he was paid $50 million over more than a decade by a Russian-backed politician and party in Ukraine, and Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“His work was corrosive to faith in the political process, both in the United States and abroad,” prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said. “He served to undermine, not promote, American ideals of honesty, transparency, and playing by the rules.”

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."

He led a sophisticated scheme "to avoid a duty all Americans have" to pay their taxes, Weissmann said, hiding wealth in 30 foreign bank accounts containing more than $50 million for his work for the government of Ukraine and Deripaska.

Manafort defense attorney Kevin Downing said his client is genuinely remorseful and has already endured a “media frenzy” that few other defendants in this country have faced. Downing said all sides have sought to spin Manafort’s predicament to their political advantage, adding, “But for a short stint as campaign manager in a presidential election, I don’t think we would be here today. I think the court should consider that too.”

Jackson dismissed that argument, telling Manafort, "Saying 'I'm sorry I got caught' is not an inspiring call for leniency."

The investigation into Manafort predated Mueller's 2017 appointment, and it wasn't the special counsel's office that made Manafort lie to investigators, she said.

Manafort himself asked for mercy on more personal grounds, telling Jackson he is the sole caregiver to his 66-year-old wife. "She needs me, and I need her. I ask that you think of this and our need for each other as you deliberate today. Please let my wife and I be together," Manafort said.

Jackson acknowledged Manafort's generosity and care for his family and other causes, calling them "commendable," and said she did not discount that she did "not know everything that there is" to Paul Manafort, or will be to him.

She said his age, the money his forfeited, and the fact that his finances and career were "in tatters" minimized the chances he would offend again.

The judge ruled earlier this year that Manafort breached his plea deal by lying to the FBI, prosecutors and grand jurors during more than 50 hours of interviews.

Jackson found that Manafort's lies included matters "material" to the Mueller probe, including interactions with his longtime Russian aide in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the FBI assessed to have ties to Russian intelligence.

Kilimnik has denied having connections to Russian intelligence and is believed to be in Russia. He was indicted with Manafort on charges of conspiring to tamper with witnesses in Manafort's D.C. case but is unlikely to be brought to court because Russia does not extradite its citizens.

Those lies, she said, tainted any cooperation he may have genuinely offered.

"So was he spinning the facts before hand to get a good deal, or was he spinning the facts afterward to protect other people?" Jackson asked. "We don't know."

Manafort's convictions stem from his earlier work in Ukraine. Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and left in late August of that year amid reports about his payments for his political work in Ukraine.

Judge Ellis in the Eastern District of Virginia last week appeared moved by Manafort’s claims, sparking a public backlash by going far below guidelines that recommended a sentence of about two decades in prison.

"I think it's excessive," he said of those guidelines. "He's lived an otherwise blameless life."

The second sentencing will cap a legal saga which began in October 2017 when he and his longtime employee and campaign deputy Rick Gates became the first defendants publicly charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe. Gates later pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI. He agreed to cooperate with the investigation and has yet to be sentenced.

Manafort faced two federal trials because he exercised his option to keep the tax and bank fraud charges in the state where he lived.

At trial in Virginia in August, a jury found him guilty on eight counts and deadlocked on 10 others. But Manafort admitted guilt on all charges in his Washington plea.

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