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Tuesday July 23rd, 2019 10:35PM

Manafort now faces 7 years in prison, fresh New York charges

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to a total of seven and a half years in prison Wednesday after a federal judge rejected his appeal for no additional time and rebuked him for his crimes and years of lies. 

Within minutes of the sentencing, prosecutors in New York brought state charges against Manafort — a move that appeared at least partly designed to guard against the possibility that President Donald Trump could pardon him. The president can pardon federal crimes, but not state offenses.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Manafort to nearly three-and-a-half years in prison on charges that he misled the U.S. government about his foreign lobbying work and encouraged witnesses to lie on his behalf. That punishment is on top of a roughly four-year sentence he received last week in a separate case in Virginia. He is expected to get credit for the nine months of jail time he's done already.

The sentencing hearing was a milestone moment in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election campaign. Manafort was among the first people charged in the investigation, and though the allegations did not relate to his work for Trump, his foreign entanglements and business relationship with a man the U.S. says has ties to Russian intelligence have made him a pivotal figure in the probe.

Though the judge made clear that the case against Manafort had nothing to do with Russian election interference, she also scolded Manafort's lawyers for asserting that their client was only charged because prosecutors couldn't get him on crimes related to potential collusion with the Trump campaign.

"The no-collusion mantra is simply a non sequitur," she said, suggesting that those arguments were meant for an audience outside the courtroom — presumably a reference to the president, who has expressed sympathy for Manafort and not ruled out a pardon.

Jackson also harshly criticized Manafort for years of deception that extended even into her own courtroom and the grand jury. She said much of the information he provided to prosecutors after pleading guilty couldn't be used because of his history of deceit.

"It is hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud and the extraordinary amount of money involved" in the federal conspiracy charges related to his foreign lobbying work and witness tampering.

Reading from a three-page statement, Manafort asked for mercy and said the criminal charges against him have "taken everything from me already." He pleaded with the judge not to impose any additional time beyond the sentence he had received last week in a separate case in Virginia.

"I am sorry for what I have done and all the activities that have gotten us here today," Manafort said in a steady voice. "While I cannot undo the past, I will ensure that the future will be very different."

The 69-year-old, who arrived in court in a wheelchair, said he was the primary caregiver of his wife and wanted the chance for them to resume their life together.

"She needs me and I need her. I ask you to think of this and our need for each other as you deliberate," Manafort said. "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."

His plea for leniency followed prosecutor Andrew Weissmann's scathing characterization of crimes that the government said spanned more than a decade and continued even while Manafort was awaiting trial. The prosecutor said Manafort took steps to conceal his foreign lobbying work, laundered millions of dollars to fund a lavish lifestyle and then, while on house arrest, coached other witnesses to lie on his behalf.

"I believe that is not reflective of someone who has learned a harsh lesson. It is not a reflection of remorse," Weissmann said. "It is evidence that something is wrong with sort of a moral compass, that someone in that position would choose to make that decision at that moment."

Defense lawyer Kevin Downing suggested Manafort was being unduly punished because of the "media frenzy" generated by the appointment of a special counsel.

"That results in a very harsh process for the defendant," Downing said.

After the hearing, Downing criticized Jackson's sentencing as "callous", "hostile" and "totally unnecessary" as he was shouted down by protesters.

"I think the judge showed that she is incredibly hostile toward Mr. Manafort and exhibited a level of callousness that I've not seen in a white-collar case in over 15 years of prosecutions," Downing told reporters, noting that he was "disappointed" by the sentence.

Wednesday's sentencing comes in a week of activity for the investigation. Mueller's prosecutors on Tuesday night updated a judge on the status of cooperation provided by one defendant, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and are expected to do the same later in the week for another.

Mueller's investigation has shown signs of coming to a close and he is expected to soon deliver a report to the Justice Department.

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