Tue 26 January 2021

Caroline Orr explains how Trump’s campaign manager’s apparently lenient prison sentence is only the first chapter of this saga

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, was sentenced to 47 months in prison Thursday for bank and tax fraud charges that were uncovered as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The sentence, handed down by Judge TS Ellis, is far below the federal sentencing guidelines, which called for 19.5 to 24 years in prison. Even Manafort’s own defense lawyers had asked for a harsher sentence (4 to 5 years) than the one he received.

The sentencing decision culminates one of two criminal trials facing Manafort, who was found guilty of eight felony charges in August after federal investigators discovered that he had hidden millions of dollars in income that he earned while working as a consultant for Ukraine’s former pro-Kremlin government.

According to prosecutors, Manafort also lied to banks to secure loans to maintain his extravagant lifestyle after the ouster of pro-Russia Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Needless to say, Manafort’s life of luxury is over for the ostensible future. After today, he will trade his six homes and infamous $15,000 ostrich coat for a prison cell and an orange jumpsuit.

Conspiracy Charges Await

However, while Thursday’s sentencing ends one chapter of Manafort’s story, it doesn’t bring closure to the saga.

Most proximally, Manafort is still awaiting sentencing on two conspiracy charges to which he pleaded guilty last September. Although he agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office in exchange for leniency, he breached the deal by lying to prosecutors about matters pertinent to the investigation, including his communication with a longtime business associate known to have ties to Russian intelligence.

This story is far from over, and justice remains to be served. Stay tuned.

The two conspiracy charges carry a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison, which could be added on top of the prison time Judge Ellis handed down Thursday, rather than allowing the sentences to run concurrently.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson will decide on Manafort’s sentence in the second case on March 13.

The Only Mueller Case so far to go to Trial

Of the 34 people and three companies charged by special counsel Mueller, Manafort is the only one who has gone to trial.

Several other Trump associates, including campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the special counsel’s investigation.

Trump’s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Also awaiting sentencing is Rick Gates, who has been a key witness against Manafort after agreeing to cooperate with investigators.

Throughout all of this, Trump has hinted that he may reward people like Manafort and Stone for not cooperating with the investigation, calling their refusal to work with federal prosecutors “very brave.”

Since [the New York district’s attorney’s are] state charges, Trump’s pardon power would be useless against them.

Trump has also repeatedly suggested that he may offer a pardon to Manafort, but New York state prosecutors may have thrown a wrench into those plans recently by preparing an “insurance policy” of criminal charges set to be filed against Manafort in case Trump makes good on his pardon threat.

The district attorney’s office in New York reportedly has evidence to prosecute Manafort on charges of evading state taxes and failing to abide by state recordkeeping laws.

The charges are designed so they won’t overlap with Manafort’s federal charges — and since they’re state charges, Trump’s pardon power would be useless against them. Furthermore, as Bloomberg News noted, if Manafort is convicted in New York, he would “face confinement in notoriously tough prisons.”

So if Manafort was hoping for a pardon to save him, he’s out of luck.

And while Manafort managed to get away with a relatively light sentence for his very serious crimes this time, he will face another judge — and another prison sentence — when he goes to court in Washington, DC, next week.

This story is far from over, and justice remains to be served. Stay tuned.

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