Mueller Calls For Harsh Sentence In Manafort Case, Citing ‘Gravity’ Of Crimes

February 23, 2019 2:24 p.m.

Special counsel Robert Mueller advocated for a significant sentence for Paul Manafort in a Feb. 22 sentencing memo, citing the “gravity” of the former Trump campaign chairman’s criminal conduct.

“For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law,” prosecutors write. “His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment.”

They cite the special counsel office’s practice of not recommending a specific prison time or financial penalty, instead laying out in exacting detail the nature of Manafort’s criminal offenses, including illegal foreign lobbying, witness tampering, and tax fraud. Federal guidelines call for a sentence of 17 to 22 years, they note.

“The sentence in this case must take into account the gravity of this conduct, and serve both to specifically deter Manafort and generally deter those who would commit a similar series of crimes,” prosecutors write.

The special counsel said there were “no warranted mitigating factors” to lessen a prospective sentence, given that Manafort chose to violate his plea agreement with Mueller’s office. There are, instead, “many aggravating sentencing factors.”

“The crimes he engaged in while on bail were not minor; they went to the heart of the criminal justice system,” prosecutors writes.

Those crimes included trying to alter witness testimony and lying to the special counsel, grand jury and FBI during cooperation sessions.

Manafort poses a significant threat for recidivism, Mueller’s office argues, given that his deceit extended to misleading “tax preparers, bookkeepers, banks, the Treasury Department, the Department of Justice National Security Division, the FBI, the Special Counsel’s Office, the grand jury, his own legal counsel, Members of Congress, and members of the executive branch of the United States government.”

The sealed memo was filed Friday and released publicly on Saturday.

Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in D.C. federal court in September 2018, agreeing to cooperate with the special counsel in what was seen as a big break for the Mueller investigation.

But within months, Manafort’s cooperation agreement began to fall apart.

Prosecutors accused the 69-year-old of lying on five separate topics, including a bizarre $125,000 payment, attempts to shield his Russian-Ukrainian associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a separate DOJ investigation, and alleged ongoing contacts with the Trump administration after his October 2017 indictment.

U.S. District Amy Judge Berman Jackson found at a Feb. 13 hearing that Manafort had lied in part to protect Kilimnik, a former Russian military intelligence employee. She also ruled that Manafort had had in fact lied on three out of five of the topics that the special counsel identified.

Of particular interest to prosecutors in their questioning of Manafort was a meeting at the Grand Havana Room – a Manhattan cigar club that hosted Manafort, Kilimnik, and Rick Gates for an Aug. 2, 2016 summit. There, Manafort may have given Kilimnik internal polling data from the Trump campaign, and appears to have fielded an unknown proposal from Kilimnik.

Manafort was found to have lied about the proposal, telling prosecutors that it was the only time it was discussed. In fact, the judge ruled, that proposal – likely a Ukraine peace plan – continued to be discussed through 2018. Manafort stayed in touch with Kilimnik, meeting with him in Spain in February 2017 to discuss the plan.

Hanging over the case has been the prospect of a pardon from Manafort’s old boss – President Trump. Special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann suggested at a Feb. 4 hearing in the case that a potential pardon may have tainted Manafort’s cooperation with the government, incentivizing him to break the plea deal.

The New York Times reported Friday that the New York state attorney general is preparing charges against Manafort, which would keep him in legal limbo even after a pardon.

The collapse of Manafort’s plea agreement was a dramatic turn in his 16-month legal saga, after Mueller brought charges against him and his longtime business associate, Rick Gates in October 2017.

That initial indictment focused on money laundering allegations and claims they failed to disclose foreign lobbying related to work they did in Ukraine predating the 2016. In February, Mueller brought a separate bank fraud and tax fraud case in Virginia, while Gates pleaded guilty and has been cooperating with prosecutors. Manafort was thrown in pretrial detention in June for alleged witness tampering, where he has remained since.

Manafort was convicted by a jury in the Virginia case last summer. He plead guilty in the D.C. case in September, just before its trial was set to begin. Sentencing in the Virginia case — where prosecutors have said they agree with the probation office’s sentencing guidelines of 19 to 24 years — is scheduled for early March.

All in all, it marks a remarkable fall for the formerly jet-setting GOP operative who worked on multiple presidential campaigns before Trump’s. Beyond his domestic political work, Manafort also had a reputation for repping foreign authoritarians and other unsavory figures.

Read the full sentencing memo below.

This post has been updated.

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