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UPDATE 6-Judge sentences Trump ex-aide Manafort to 3-1/2 more years in prison

Updated: 13-03-2019 22:19 IST
UPDATE 6-Judge sentences Trump ex-aide Manafort to 3-1/2 more years in prison

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced on Wednesday to about 3-1/2 more years in prison for charges arising from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election, with the judge giving him a stern lecture about his lies and criminal behavior. The sentence by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington comes on top of a sentence by a different judge in Virginia last week and means that in total Manafort will spend six years and nine months behind bars, after being credited for nine months already served while the cases unfolded.

Jackson gave Manafort a sentence of six years and one month months for two conspiracy counts to which he pleaded guilty in September 2018 related to money laundering, unregistered lobbying and attempted witness tampering. Jackson said 2-1/2 years of her sentence will run at the same time as the sentence in Virginia, where he was given 47 months in prison after being convicted by a jury of tax evasion and bank fraud in another case prosecuted by Mueller.

Manafort's legal troubles grew when the Manhattan district attorney announced a separate indictment of Manafort charging him with residential mortgage fraud and other New York state crimes. Unlike at his sentencing hearing last week, Manafort said he was sorry for his actions, but Jackson then told him his expression of remorse rang hollow. Jackson told Manafort that he had lied repeatedly and committed fraud repeatedly, and there was no good explanation for the leniency he sought.

"Saying 'I'm sorry I got caught' is not an inspiring plea for leniency," Jackson told Manafort, who was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair because of a condition called gout. Manafort, a veteran Republican political operative who earned millions of dollars working for pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine, had not showed any remorse at his sentencing in his other case last Thursday.

"I am sorry for what I have done and for all the activities that have gotten us here today," Manafort told Jackson on Wednesday. "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 added.

"The defendant's insistence that none of this should be happening to him ... is just one more thing that is inconsistent with the notion of any genuine acceptance of responsibility," the judge told Manafort. Jackson said at the outset of the sentencing hearing that she would not be influenced by last Thursday's sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Virginia, where Manafort was convicted in August 2018 by a jury for bank fraud, tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.

That 47-month sentence was two decades below the upper limit of federal sentencing guidelines, prompting criticism among some legal experts that it was too light. Jackson could have given Manafort up to 10 years in prison in the Washington case - five for each of the two conspiracy counts.

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

Manafort wore a dark suit and tie to the hearing. At last week's sentencing, Manafort wore a green prison jumpsuit emblazoned with the words "Alexandria Inmate" on the back. In the Washington case, Manafort was sentenced for conspiracy against the United States, which included a range of conduct from money laundering to unregistered lobbying, and a second conspiracy count related to witness tampering.

During Wednesday's hearing, Jackson ruled that Manafort should get a tougher sentence because he acted in a leadership role, directing others to participate in a crime. But Jackson said Manafort should get credit for accepting responsibility because he pleaded guilty to the conduct at issue, though he later breached his cooperation deal with prosecutors. Mueller's team did not make a specific recommendation on Manafort's sentencing in the Washington case. But prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said during the hearing that 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.

"Paul Manafort's upbringing, his education, his means, his opportunities could have led him to be a leading example for this country. At each juncture, though, Mr. Manafort chose to take a different path," Weissmann said. "He engaged in crime again and again. He has not learned a harsh lesson. He has served to undermine, not promote, American ideals," Weissmann added.

Jackson's sentence may mark the end of a two-year-old legal battle between Manafort, a veteran Republican political operative who worked for Trump's campaign for five months in 2016, and Mueller, who made exposing Manafort's covert lobbying for pro-Kremlin politicians in Ukraine a centerpiece of his Russia probe. Manafort's lawyers noted that none of the Mueller's charges against him related to the special counsel's core mandate: collusion between Russia and the Trump 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, and asked her to take media coverage of the case into account in determining the sentence. Manafort started his statement to Jackson by saying that his statement before Ellis last week did not adequately reflect his contrition.

Trump has not ruled out a presidential pardon for Manafort, and after last week's sentencing said "I feel very badly" for his former aide. The New York charges, however, could not be erased by a presidential pardon, only applicable to federal crimes. The two criminal cases pursued by Mueller case caused a stunning downfall for Manafort, a prominent figure in Republican Party circles for decades who also worked as a consultant to such international figures as former Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and Yanukovych.

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 2016 election in an effort to boost Trump. Jackson suggested during the hearing that the oft-repeated talking point of Manafort's attorneys that his crimes did not prove that Trump's campaign colluded with Russia was aimed at winning a presidential pardon.

Manafort is one of the 34 people and three companies charged by Mueller. Several others including former campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen have pleaded guilty, while longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has pleaded not guilty. (Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld in New York; Writing by Nathan Layne; Editing by Will Dunham)