WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort, the disgraced Republican operative and former Trump campaign chairman, arrived in a courtroom in northern Virginia on Thursday in a wheelchair and wearing a green jumpsuit and staring down the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars. In the end, he got off easy.
After a three-and-a-half hour sentencing hearing, Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced Manafort to just 47 months in federal prison after he was convicted of bank and tax fraud.
Before he handed down the sentence, Ellis seemed to take pity on Manafort — a pioneer in the dark arts of foreign influence campaigns who worked work strongmen and dictators around the world — by saying that the sentencing guidelines in the case were “excessive” and that Manafort was “a generous person” who had “lived an otherwise blameless life.” Ellis went out of his way to note that Manafort’s crimes had nothing to do with collusion with the Russian government. “The real essence of his violation is that he stole from us, the people who pay their taxes,” Ellis said.
Ellis’ decision marks the end of one of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations of Manafort. Manafort’s defense lawyers had lobbied for him to receive a much more lenient punishment, saying he’d learned a “harsh lesson.” But Judge Ellis ultimately disagreed with the special counsel’s office, which did not recommend a specific sentence for Manafort but agreed with the federal probation office’s recommendation of 19-to-25 years in prison for Manafort.
In a brief set of remarks, Manafort asked Judge Ellis for compassion. “To say I have been humiliated and shamed,” he said, “would be a gross understatement.” But Manafort did not apologize for his crimes.
The sentence will undoubtedly be seen as a rebuke of Mueller and his legal team, which argued in their sentencing memo that Manafort’s crimes merited a lengthy punishment. “For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law,” Mueller’s lawyers wrote. “His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment. Manafort engaged in witness tampering while on bail and, even after he was caught for engaging in that scheme, Manafort committed the additional crimes of perjury and making false statement…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.”
Manafort, 69, was indicted in Virginia last year alongside longtime associate and fellow Trump campaign staffer Rick Gates. Though Gates pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office, Manafort took his case to trial. In August, a jury convicted him on eight counts of financial fraud. A month later, rather than stand trial for the second time in two months, he pleaded guilty in a separate case brought by Mueller in Washington, D.C., alleging money laundering, illegal foreign lobbying, witness tampering and conspiracy against the United States. As part of that agreement, he also plead guilty to the remaining counts in the Virginia case.
As part of his plea agreement, Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s office. That didn’t go too well. In February, Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Manafort had violated the plea agreement by lying to investigators working for the special counsel. According to Mueller, Manafort misled federal agents and prosecutors about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a former business associate tied to Russian intelligence with whom Manafort shared internal polling data during the 2016 campaign.
The sentence handed down Thursday pertains only to Manafort’s bank and tax fraud conviction from last August. He is scheduled to be sentenced for violating his plea agreement in Washington, D.C., next week.