WASHINGTON — On Friday evening, lawyers working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller recommended that Paul Manafort, the president’s disgraced former campaign chairman, serve as many as 24 years in jail on charges brought in federal court in Virginia. This sentencing memo comes a day after a federal judge found that Manafort had intentionally lied to Mueller and his team in the course of their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, violating his plea agreement.
Manafort’s legal woes began almost one year ago, when he was indicted by Mueller alongside Rick Gates, his former protege and ex-Trump campaign aide, on 32 counts of tax and bank fraud. Last August, after Manafort took his case to trial in northern Virginia (Gates had already pleaded guilty), a jury convicted Manafort on eight counts of bank and tax fraud, which carried a maximum sentence of 80 years in prison.
The following month, Manafort pleaded guilty in a second case brought by Mueller, charging the former Trump deputy with money laundering, illegal foreign lobbying, witness tampering and conspiracy against the United States. As part of his plea deal, Manafort agreed to “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. According to Mueller, that didn’t happen.
In November, the special counsel’s office alleged that Manafort had lied to FBI agents and Justice Department lawyers “on a variety of matters” during his interviews with the government. It later emerged that those matters included Manafort’s contacts with a Russian political consultant named Konstantin Kilimnik, who was his translator and lieutenant when they worked in Ukrainian politics together.
In a closed-door hearing two weeks ago, Andrew Weissman, a veteran prosecutor working for the special counsel, told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that the two men’s conversations that took place during and after the 2016 election about a potential Ukrainian peace plan “goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating.”
The Special Counsel sentencing memo recommends a “range of imprisonment of 235 to 293 months,” or between 19.5 and 24.4 years. “Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law,” the government argues. “The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.”
The sentencing memo is scathing, in parts. “Manafort’s crimes were the product of his planning and premeditation over many years,” the document states. Manafort’s criminal tax evasion, it adds, “was not caused by any necessity but simple greed. Manafort had ample funds to cover these tax payments. He simply chose not to comply with laws that would reduce his wealth.”
Manafort, who turned 69 in April, appears likely to spend the rest of his life in prison. His time in jail awaiting his sentencing has already taken a toll: Manafort’s lawyers told the court in January that their client has suffered from depression, anxiety and “severe gout,” which has at times confined him to a wheelchair. But the sentencing memo advises no leniency here: “Manafort’s age does not eliminate the risk of recidivism he poses,” it states, “particularly given… that the most recent crimes he pled guilty to occurred from February to April 2018, when he conspired to tamper with witnesses at a time when he was under indictment in two separate districts. Further as Judge Jackson found, Manafort’s misconduct continued as recently as October 2018 when he repeatedly and intentionally lied to the government during proffer sessions and the grand jury.”
Only one option now remains that could get Manafort off the hook: a presidential pardon. Trump has not sent a clear signal on whether he intends to pardon his former campaign chairman. But he told the New York Post in November: “Why would I take it off the table?”