Paul Manafort should serve up to 25 years in prison, says Mueller

Recommendation would mean Trump’s former campaign chairman would spend rest of life in jail

Paul Manafort: Mueller’s prosecution team say a tax and bank fraud scheme allowed Manafort to hide millions of dollars in “ill-gotten gains” from political consulting work in Ukraine. File photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Paul Manafort: Mueller’s prosecution team say a tax and bank fraud scheme allowed Manafort to hide millions of dollars in “ill-gotten gains” from political consulting work in Ukraine. File photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

 

Federal prosecutors recommended Friday that Paul Manafort, US president Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, serve up to 25 years in prison and pay up to $25 million (€22 million) in fines for a fraud scheme that they said spanned more than a decade and showed that he believed “the law does not apply to him.”

The prosecutors, who work for special counsel Robert Mueller, recommended a sentence that would most likely ensure Manafort (69) spends the rest of his life behind bars. They said that a tax and bank fraud scheme allowed Manafort to hide millions of dollars in “ill-gotten gains” from political consulting work in Ukraine and to defraud American banks in an attempt to “maintain his extravagant lifestyle.”

The prosecutors filed their recommendation Friday in one of two criminal cases against Manafort that are now grinding to a close. Manafort, who worked for Trump’s campaign during a critical five months when he became the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2016, is awaiting sentencing in Northern Virginia on eight felony charges related to the financial fraud scheme and on two conspiracy charges in a related case in US district court in Washington.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the federal judge handling the Washington case, ruled this week that Manafort had deliberately deceived prosecutors after he pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts in September and agreed to cooperate with them in hopes of a lighter sentence. In a transcript of that hearing released Friday night, Judge Jackson said, “My concern isn’t with non-answers or simply denials, but times he affirmatively advanced a detailed alternative story that was inconsistent with the facts.”

She found that Manafort had deceived investigators about three issues, including his dealings with Konstantin V Kilimnik, a Russian associate who prosecutors say has ties to Russian intelligence. At one point, Judge Jackson said, Manafort’s actions seemed to constitute “an attempt to shield his Russian conspirator from liability,” adding, “it gives rise to legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie.”

‘Sharing polling data’

Mueller’s team has been investigating whether Kilimnik played any role in Russia’s covert campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Prosecutors had told the judge that Manafort had lied about the fact he had shared Trump campaign polling data with Kilimnik months before the 2016 election, possibly because he believed Trump would be less likely to pardon him for his crimes if his release of campaign data became known.

Defence lawyers had argued that the only real proof Manafort ordered the data transfer came from Rick Gates, Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, who is awaiting sentencing on charges of conspiracy and lying to federal investigators. The lawyers said that Gates was not a credible witness and that emails supposedly backing up his account were ambiguous, at best.

At the earlier hearing, Jackson had questioned why Kilimnik would have been interested in polling data. Richard Westling, one of Manafort’s lawyers, maintained that some of the information, apparently the polling data, was “very detailed” and “not easily understandable.” The judge said, however, that made Manafort’s apparent decision to share it “significant and unusual.”

Prosecutors also said Manafort had deceived them about his discussions with Kilimnik and a plan to resolve a conflict over Russia’s incursions into Ukraine that some foreign policy experts say would have served the Kremlin’s ends. Like the sharing of the polling data, they said, those talks went “to the heart” of the special counsel’s investigation, Andrew Weissmann, one of Mueller’s top deputies, told Jackson.

Kilimnik was crucial to the special counsel’s investigation, regardless of whether he was on the Russian government’s payroll or even was “an active spy,” she said. “We have now been over Kilimnik, Kilimnik and Kilimnik,” the judge noted, saying Manafort’s communications with him were “at the undisputed core” of Mueller’s inquiry.

Manafort had told prosecutors that he discussed the plan only once with Kilimnik, on August 2nd, 2016, at the Grand Havana Room in Manhattan. That meeting took place a few weeks before Manafort was fired from the Trump campaign because of a burgeoning scandal involving his work in Ukraine with Kilimnik.

Weissmann stressed that the meeting with someone the FBI had assessed had “a relationship with Russian intelligence” took place “at an unusual time for somebody who is the campaign chairman.” Judge Jackson noted that Manafort eventually acknowledged that after Trump was elected, he and Kilimnik discussed the peace plan for Ukraine at least three more times, but only after prosecutors had confronted Manafort with evidence of other encounters.

According to the transcript released Friday, Jackson found that Manafort had not simply omitted or forgotten facts, but had created “an alternative narrative” that was untrue. In general, she said Manafort forced the prosecutor to “pull teeth,” adding that concessions came in “dribs and drabs, only after it’s clear that the Office of Special Counsel already knew the answer.”

The judge has also found that Manafort had lied about information related to another undisclosed Justice Department inquiry. She ruled that he had deceived prosecutors about the use of donations raised by a pro-Trump political action committee to cover $125,000 worth of his legal bills. While leading the Trump campaign, Manafort staffed the committee with two friends.

Jackson found that in answering questions about the $125,000 payment, Manafort appeared to “be making a concerted effort to avoid saying what really took place.”–New York Times