The Mueller investigation has linked Paul Manafort to Russia, but what does that mean for Trump and the 2016 presidential campaign?
Hannah Gaber, USA TODAY
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Paul Manafort was sentenced Thursday to nearly fouryears in federal prison for cheating banks and the government out of millions of dollars, sparing for now President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman the prospect of being jailed for the rest of his life.
The prison sentence marks the end ofa stunning downfall for the longtime political operative who helped elect four Republican presidents, including Trump. He is among a half-dozen people in Trump’s orbit who have been charged as a result of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible cooperation with the Trump campaign.
Manafort, who used his illicit fortune to pay for expensive homes and suits, arrived to hear his sentence in a green jail jumpsuit emblazoned on the back with the words “Alexandria inmate.” He entered the packed federal courtroom in a wheelchair, appearing thin, his hair grayer holding a cane.
Manafort said he was “humiliated and ashamed” by his new circumstances.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, who had been critical of Mueller’s prosecutors, imposed the sentence Thursday evening in a federal court outside Washington. He said Manafort had committed “serious, very serious crimes,” but he also said Manafort had “lived an otherwise blameless life and earned the admiration of many.”
In addition to 47 months in prison, Ellis ordered Manafort to pay a $50,000 fine and more than $24 million in restitution, and to spend three years on supervision when he is released from prison.
Speaking from his wheelchair, Manafort referred repeatedly to his time in solitary confinement waiting to hear his sentence as “painful” and as “time to reflect on my choices,” but he did not express remorse.
Ellis seized on Manafort’s failure to “express regret” for his actions. “Your regret should be that you didn’t comply with the law,” he said. “
Still, he imposed a prison sentence considerably below what prosecutors and federal sentencing guidelines suggested would be appropriate. Manafort, 69, faced the prospect of a sentence that could have put him in prison for two decades or more; Ellis decision spares him what would likely have amounted to a life sentence.
Ellis’ decision is not the end for Manafort. He will be sentenced again next week in a related case in Washington where he faces an additional 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges for failing to report his lobbying work in Ukraine and tampering with witnesses to get them to change their stories.
A jury in Virginia convicted Manafort of eight charges, including bank and tax fraud, after a three-week trial last summer. The case, as well as a related one in Washington, stem from his work as a political consultant in Ukraine before he joined Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Before he announced the sentence, Ellis made a point of stressing that Manafort “is not before the court on anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government.”
Prosecutors alleged that he masterminded a years-long scheme to defraud American banks and taxpayers out of millions of dollars he had amassed through years of illicit lobbying work on behalf of a pro-Russian political faction in Ukraine. They say he did not pay taxes on this massive wealth, hid money in several foreign bank accounts, and lived extravagantly despite an already privileged life.
Federal sentencing guidelines call for a 20- to 24-year prison term, a punishment defense lawyers said would likely amount to a life sentence for Manafort, who turns 70 next month. Ellis said such a sentence would be “excessive.”
The crimes predate Manafort’s work leading the Trump campaign and are not connected to any possible coordination with Russia, a fact Manafort’s attorneys stressed as they argued for a more lenient sentence. During a hearing last summer, Ellis, known to speak his mind, accused the Mueller team of leveling charges against Manafort to pressure him to “sing” about Trump.
Manafort’s attorneys asked for leniency, citing Manafort’s his age and deteriorating health. They said the charges destroyed Manafort’s career and inflicted hardship on him and his family. Friends and relatives wrote lengthy letters begging Ellis for mercy, saying Manafort is not the villain portrayed in the media. His wife, Kathleen, described Manafort as “the rock the family has relied on for years.”
Manafort’s wife, Kathleen, left the court Thursday evening without commenting. Federal marshals wheeled Manafort himself out of the courtroom and back into custody.
Contributing: Bart Jansen
More on Paul Manafort’s legal troubles:
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