Manafort Faces 7.5 Years in Prison After Judge Extends Sentence

This courtroom sketch shows Paul Manafort listening to Judge Amy Berman Jackson in U.S. District Court during his Wednesday sentencing hearing in Washington. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Rejecting pleas from Paul Manafort about his remorse, a federal judge tacked another three and a half years Wednesday onto the federal prison sentence awaiting the former Trump campaign chair.

“Saying I’m sorry I got caught is not an inspiring plea for leniency,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said before she handed down the sentence at about noon.

Arriving to court this morning in a wheelchair, Manafort read from a statement in which he tried to assure the court about his level of remorse.

“Let me be very clear,” said Manafort, who turns 70 on April 1, “I accept responsibility for the acts that caused me to be here today.”

But the remarks fell flat with Jackson who noted that Manafort has never admitted he brought this all upon himself, even though he has no one else to blame.

“The comments today seemed to have been prompted in part by comments made after the last sentencing hearing,” Jackson said.

Jackson pointed specifically to Manafort’s continued insistence that his prosecution by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is unjust — a claim she noted that Manafort has continued to assert, even after she and U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in the Eastern District of Virginia both found that the indictments fell squarely within Mueller’s mandate.

“It’s just one more thing that’s inconsistent with any genuine acceptance of responsibility,” Jackson said. 

Judge Jackson had revoked Manafort’s pretrial release back in June after the defendant was found to have been tampering with two potential witnesses in the case. Unlike in Virginia, where Manafort was convicted of various financial crimes, his sentencing in Washington today is connected to his guilty plea to conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

For the financial crimes last week, Manafort faced the possibility of 24 years in prison but came away with a much more lenient term of just under four years. Judge Jackson sentenced Manafort today to 73 months, with 30 months of that term overlapping with the Virginia sentence. Manafort’s total sentence between the two cases comes out to 90 months, or 7.5 years.

During his statement to the court today, Manafort said the nine months he has spent in solitary confinement have been illuminating.

“I can see that I behaved in ways that did not reflect my core personal values,” Manafort said.

Claiming he’s a different person now, Manafort said he regrets the suffering he caused his family. The person he’s been “is someone I don’t recognize,” Manafort said.

Manafort said he’s had time to reflect on his life, his choices, and the importance of family and friends. He tried to assure the judge that he wanted to turn notoriety of the past two years into a positive, and “show the world who I really am.”

“I can assure you that I feel the pain from these reflections,” Manafort said. “And I know it was my conduct that brought me here today.”

Noting that his wife will turn 66 this year, Manafort asked Jackson to consider that he’s her primary caregiver. 

“This case has taken everything from me already,” Manafort said.

He added: “Please let my wife and I be together. … If not for me, for my family. If you do I promise you will not regret it.”

Special Counsel Mueller brought the case in Washington, D.C., against Manafort because of his failure to register as a foreign agent for his lobbying work on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.  

Offering a harsh critique of Manafort’s conduct, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann noted in court this morning that Manafort had been well aware of his duty to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act because the Justice Department had audited him previously.

Manafort’s crimes were willing and repeated, Weissmann asserted, noting that the defendant hid his pro-Ukraine lobbying work from both the American public and from those who worked for him. 

But his crimes didn’t stop there, Weissmann said. While out on bail Manafort attempted to sway the testimony of two potential witnesses in the case – an act that ultimately cost him pretrial release. 

And after Manafort agreed to cooperate with the government, Jackson ruled that he breached the plea deal by lying to investigators and attempting to minimize his conduct. 

“It’s very problematic to me because court is one of those places where facts still matter,” Jackson said. 

Though she said Manafort should get some credit for his cooperation – and noted that not everything he told investigators was false – Jackson said Manafort’s conduct makes it difficult to assess the veracity of the material he did provide.

Defense attorney Kevin Downing had urged Jackson meanwhile to take into account the “political motivation” around Manafort’s prosecution, which he later clarified was not intended to reflect on the special counsel but rather the “media frenzy” encircling the case.

The media circus has been harsh on Manafort, Downing said as he asked Jackson to account for that in her sentence.

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

Jackson later chastised both sides for hyperbole. 

“This defendant is not Public Enemy No. 1,” Jackson said. “But he’s not a victim either.”

Jackson made clear the sentence she imposed was not an indictment of the special counsel’s tactics. Nor was it an answer to accusations of Russian collusion, an allegation she noted was not before the court today.

But she said it was hard to overstate the level of fraud and money involved. 

“And there is no good explanation that would warrant the leniency requested,” she said. 

Lobbying Congress on behalf of Ukraine is not wrong, Jackson noted.
“But what you were doing was lying to members of Congress and the American public,” she said.

That, she said, undermines the political process and affects policy making.

“If the people don’t have the facts, democracy can’t work,” Jackson said.

Minutes after the hearing concluded, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance indicted Manafort in New York on 16 counts of mortgage fraud and conspiracy.

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