USA: Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman sentenced to additional 3 1/2 years in prison

FILE - U.S. President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort arrives at a hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington.
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U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to an additional 3 1/2 years in prison Wednesday for conspiracy linked to his lobbying efforts in Ukraine for a pro-Russian political party, adding to the nearly four-year term he was handed in a companion case last week.

In failing health, the wheelchair-bound Manafort apologized to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in a Washington courtroom, saying he was ashamed of his actions and pleaded for mercy.

“I am sorry for what I have done and for all the activities that have gotten us here today,” Manafort told the judge. “While I cannot undo the past, I will ensure that the future will be very different.”

But Jackson told the 69-year-old Manafort she could not ignore his wrongdoing, telling him, “Saying I’m sorry I got caught is not an inspiring plea for leniency.”

Jackson, who had revoked Manafort’s house arrest and jailed him last June after hearing allegations that he tampered with witnesses, imposed a 73-month sentence on Manafort. But she said 30 of the months would run concurrently with the 47-month term he was already sentenced for financial crimes. Together, the two sentences total 7 1/2 years, although Manafort will be given credit for the nine months he has already spent behind bars.

Shortly after his sentencing, a New York grand jury accused Manafort of 16 counts of mortgage fraud to obtain bank loans.

Withering assessment of crimes

Prosecutor Andrew Weissman did not recommend a specific sentence for Manafort but delivered a withering assessment of Manafort’s crimes, saying they “go to the heart of the American criminal system.”

The prosecutor said Manafort’s crimes spanned more than a decade, that he had concealed his foreign lobbying work, laundered millions of dollars to avoid U.S. taxes and coached witnesses in the investigation to lie.

Manafort, who led Trump’s presidential campaign for three months in mid-2016, said he was the primary caregiver for his wife Kathleen and wanted the chance for them to resume their life together.

“She needs me and I need her,” Manafort told Jackson. “I ask you to think of this and our need for each other as you deliberate. This case has taken everything from me already — my properties, my cash, my life insurance, my trust accounts for my children and my grandchildren, and more.”

Possible Trump pardon

Hanging over the entire Manafort saga is the possibility that Trump could free Manafort by pardoning him. Late last year, Trump said he “wouldn’t take it off the table,” although more recently, he said, “I don’t even discuss it.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said earlier this week that Trump would “make a decision when he’s ready.”

The Manafort case is part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The charges against Manafort, however, were not related to his work on the Trump campaign, but rather his work on behalf of the pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.

Manafort pleaded guilty in an agreement with Mueller’s team to fully cooperate with the Russia probe, but Jackson ruled he violated the terms of the plea deal by lying to investigators.

Manafort’s case, while specifically dealing with his lobbying in Ukraine and financial crimes, is at the center of Mueller’s Russia investigation. Prosecutors said during his case that Manafort shared campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort business associate identified by prosecutors as having ties to Russian intelligence.

The prosecutors say Manafort and Kilimnik met secretly during the U.S. presidential campaign and that their encounter cuts “to the heart” of their investigation whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to help him win.

Mueller’s investigation appears to be winding down, although no end date has been set for him to deliver a report on his investigation to the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr.

Mueller’s prosecutors late Tuesday updated a judge on the status of cooperation by another defendant, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his contacts with Russia’s former ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.

The prosecutors are expected to do the same later in the week for Rick Gates, a Manafort business associate and former key Trump campaign aide, who pleaded guilty to fraud and lying to investigators.

Mueller and federal prosecutors also have secured guilty pleas for various offenses from Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen and former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos, while also indicting long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone.

Ken Bredemeier I VOA

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