U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison for laundering tens of millions of dollars in payments from the Kremlin-connected former president of Ukraine, dodging American taxes and defrauding several banks.
The sentence handed to Paul Manafort by a judge in Virginia on Thursday evening fell far short of sentencing guidelines that recommended a penalty of between 19 and 24 years, and it was even more lenient than Mr. Manafort’s own lawyers had asked for.
The 47-month penalty is still the toughest sentence yet for a member of Mr. Trump’s campaign ensnared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. And his legal proceedings revealed some links between Mr. Trump’s circle and Moscow.
But the outcome of the case was unusual, particularly because Mr. Manafort did not apologize for his crimes during the sentencing, and had earlier lied to Mr. Mueller after agreeing to co-operate with his investigation.
“It’s an incredibly low sentence. The guy didn’t take responsibility, he went to trial; he said he was going to co-operate but then lied to them; and he couldn’t even bring himself to say he was sorry,” said Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor who teaches law at Columbia University.
Judge T.S. Ellis also lauded Mr. Manafort during the sentencing for having “lived an otherwise blameless life” and being a “generous person.” Mr. Manafort spent much of his career as the Washington lobbyist for dictators and warlords accused of human rights abuses, including the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko and Jonas Savimbi of Angola.
Mr. Manafort, 69, will face another sentencing next week in a Washington court on charges related to illegal lobbying and witness tampering. He faces up to 10 years in prison in that case. Judge Amy Berman Jackson will have to decide whether to have him serve her sentence concurrently or consecutively with Judge Ellis’s.
Mr. Trump has mused about pardoning Mr. Manafort. Bloomberg News has reported that prosecutors in New York plan to file additional state-level charges against Mr. Manafort if he receives a pardon, in a bid to ensure he is punished for his crimes.
Jacob Frenkel, a former federal corruption prosecutor, said he is certain Mr. Trump will either pardon Mr. Manafort or reduce his sentence. “To me, it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ the President acts in favour of PM,” said Mr. Frenkel, now with the law firm Dickinson Wright.
Mr. Manafort was convicted in connection with a secretive lobbying campaign he orchestrated for Viktor Yanukovych, the autocratic former Ukrainian president and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Manafort broke U.S. law by not registering as a lobbyist for Mr. Yanukovych, then laundered about US$30-million in payments from the Ukrainian government through offshore bank accounts. He dodged millions in U.S. taxes, then lied to four banks to fraudulently obtain large loans.
None of these crimes were directly related to Mr. Trump’s campaign. But the prosecution of Mr. Manafort revealed Russian ties that may be relevant to Mr. Mueller’s larger inquiries about the possibility of collusion between Mr. Trump’s circle and the Kremlin. Among other things, it was revealed Mr. Manafort gave campaign polling information to Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate in Ukraine believed by the FBI to be connected to a Russian spy agency that hacked Democratic e-mails during the election.
Later, he enlisted Mr. Kilimnik to help him contact witnesses in a bid to influence their testimony in his case. Mr. Manafort was also in contact with members of the Trump administration before his trial.
Mr. Manafort attended a meeting at Trump Tower in June, 2016, that Donald Trump Jr., the President’s son, arranged with a Russian lawyer he believed to be a Kremlin intermediary and who he hoped would provide the campaign with “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. What exactly happened at the sit-down is unclear; Mr. Trump Jr. has denied that anything of substance was shared by the Russians.
At first, Mr. Manafort pleaded not guilty to the charges. He went to trial on the Virginia indictment, and was convicted on eight counts. He reached a plea deal with Mr. Mueller before the Washington trial, pleading guilty and agreeing to co-operate. Mr. Mueller later accused him of lying to investigators about his dealings with Mr. Kilimnik.
A well-connected Republican operative since the 1970s, Mr. Manafort had long made his living as the Washington representative of foreign autocrats. In the spring of 2016, he joined Mr. Trump’s campaign and quickly became its unpaid chairman. He was dropped in August of that year as scrutiny of his Russian ties intensified after the Democrats publicly accused the Kremlin of hacking them.
Mr. Mueller has so far charged 34 people. Seven have pleaded guilty, one has pleaded not guilty and the rest – mostly Russian spies and trolls – have not been arrested.
Editor’s note: March 8, 2019: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Mr. Manafort was acquitted on 10 other charges. In fact, there was a mistrial declared on those charges.