March 13, 2019 / 10:22 AM / in a month

Trump ex-aide Manafort hit with three-and-a-half more years in prison, new charges

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to about 3-1/2 more years in prison and was hit with a fresh set of criminal charges in New York on Wednesday, drawing sympathy from a president who declined to say whether he would issue a pardon.

Manafort, 69, is due to spend a total of 7-1/2 years behind bars when the sentence by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson for crimes related to secret lobbying and witness tampering is combined with another of just under four years issued by a different judge in Virginia last Thursday. He has already served nine months of the sentence.

The veteran Republican operative has received the longest prison term yet in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

It amounts to a sharp fall for a man who earned millions of dollars as an international political consultant to pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine and dodged more than $6 million in taxes by hiding his income in offshore bank accounts.

That money could have been used by the government to help pay for veterans’ hospitals and other services, Jackson told Manafort, who was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair because of a condition called gout.

“Why? Not to support a family, but to sustain a lifestyle at the most opulent and extravagant level possible. More houses than one family can enjoy. More suits than one man can wear,” Jackson said, referring to Manafort’s previous luxuries.

Just minutes after Jackson read her sentence, the Manhattan district attorney unveiled a separate indictment charging Manafort with residential mortgage fraud and other New York state crimes, which unlike the federal charges cannot be erased by a presidential pardon. Manafort faces up to 25 years in prison on the three most serious charges.

“No one is beyond the law in New York,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Trump, who in November said he had not ruled out giving Manafort a pardon, on Wednesday said that “I have not even given it a thought.”

“It’s not something that’s right now in my mind. I do feel badly for Paul Manafort - that I can tell you,” the Republican president told reporters at the White House.

Trump has called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt,” and Manafort’s lawyers have argued that this case does nothing to prove that the campaign conspired with Russia. They have noted that the crimes sending him to prison stem from his lobbying work, not his time with Trump’s campaign.

“But for a short stint as a campaign manager in a presidential election, I don’t think we’d be here today,” Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing told Jackson.

Jackson suggested that the “‘no collusion’ mantra” was simply aimed at winning a pardon from Trump. Jackson added that Mueller’s ongoing investigation could yet reveal that Manafort worked with Russian interests during the campaign.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort arrives at a hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

‘A HARSH LESSON’

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said Manafort had engaged in an extensive cover-up that deceived the U.S. government and the American public, and continued to try to undermine the investigation even after he pleaded guilty.

“He engaged in crime again and again. He has not learned a harsh lesson. He has served to undermine, not promote, American ideals,” Weissmann said.

Manafort, clad in a dark suit and a purple tie instead of the jail garb he wore to his Virginia sentencing, apologised for his actions and asked Jackson not to impose any prison time on top of the 47 months he was given by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria.

“This case has taken everything from me already - my properties, my cash, my life insurance, trust accounts for my children and grandchildren, and even more,” Manafort said.

“Saying ‘I’m sorry I got caught’ is not an inspiring plea for leniency,” the judge told Manafort.

She also said Manafort’s expression of remorse rang hollow.

“It’s hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud and the extraordinary amount of money involved,” Jackson said.

Jackson had ruled on Feb. 13 that Manafort breached his agreement to cooperate with Mueller’s office by lying to prosecutors about matters pertinent to the Russia probe including his interactions with a business partner they have said has ties to Russian intelligence.

Jackson’s sentence builds on what many legal experts called the surprisingly lenient sentence from Ellis when Manafort was sentenced for his August 2018 tax fraud and bank fraud convictions - far shy of federal sentencing guidelines. Ellis last week praised Manafort’s “otherwise blameless life.”

The sentence Manafort received from Jackson was well below the 10 years he could have faced for the two criminal counts to which he pleaded guilty in September 2018.

Jackson showed little sympathy for the argument by Manafort’s lawyers that his failure to disclose lobbying activity on behalf of Ukraine was little more than a paperwork error.

In a chaotic scene outside the courthouse, Downing said Mueller’s two cases against his client had shown “no evidence of any collusion with Russians,” as protesters called Manafort a “traitor” and a “liar.”

Slideshow (3 Images)

Mueller is preparing to submit to U.S. Attorney General William Barr a report on his investigation into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia and whether Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction and Russia has denied U.S. intelligence findings that it interfered in the election to boost Trump.

Manafort is one of the 34 people and three companies charged by Mueller. Others who have pleaded guilty include former campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has pleaded not guilty.

Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld and Nathan Layne in New York; Editing by Will Dunham

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