ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, at his sentencing hearing on Thursday, asked a U.S. judge for mercy after being convicted of financial crimes uncovered during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis was due to impose the sentence on Manafort, 69, during the hearing in Alexandria, Virginia. Manafort, a veteran Republican political consultant, was found guilty last August by a jury of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.
Ellis noted during the hearing that Manafort “is not before the court for any allegations that he, or anyone at his direction, colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.”
Manafort asked Ellis for mercy and thanked him for conducting a fair trial. He did not express remorse for his actions but talked about how the case has been difficult for him and his family. Manafort, who opted not to testify during his trial, told the court that “to say I have been humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement.” He described his life as “professionally and financially in shambles.”
Manafort, with noticeably grayer hair than just months ago, was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair holding a cane, wearing a green prison jumpsuit emblazoned with the words “Alexandria inmate” on the back. It was a far cry from Manafort’s usual dapper appearance and stylish garb. He has been jailed leading up to his sentencing.
Manafort was convicted after prosecutors accused him of hiding from the U.S. government millions of dollars he earned as a consultant for Ukraine’s former pro-Russia government. After pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, prosecutors said, Manafort lied to banks to secure loans and maintain an opulent lifestyle with luxurious homes, designer suits and even a $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket.
His defense team argued he should get a lighter sentence because he had agreed to cooperate with the prosecution after he was convicted – though another judge found he breached that deal by repeatedly lying to prosecutors – and because his bid to secure a $5.5 million bank loan on fraudulent premises did not actually succeed. Ellis rejected those efforts.
Manafort faces sentencing in a separate case next Wednesday in Washington on two conspiracy charges to which he pleaded guilty last September.
While he faces a statutory maximum of 10 years in the Washington case, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson potentially could stack that on top of the sentence imposed in the Virginia case, rather than allowing the sentences to run concurrently.
Manafort is the only one of the 34 people and three companies charged by Mueller to have gone to trial. Several others including former campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen have pleaded guilty, while longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has pleaded not guilty.
Gates, a key witness against Manafort, has yet to be sentenced due to his ongoing cooperation with prosecutors.
Trump, who has called Mueller’s investigation a politically motivated “witch hunt,” has not ruled out granting a presidential pardon to Manafort, saying in November that “I wouldn’t take it off the table.”
Jackson on Feb. 13 ruled that Manafort had breached his agreement to cooperate with Mueller’s office by lying to prosecutors about three matters pertinent to the Russia probe including his interactions with a business partner they have said has ties to Russian intelligence.
Mueller is preparing to submit to U.S. Attorney General William Barr a report on his investigation into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia and whether Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction and Russia has denied election interference.
The crimes for Manafort was convicted did not directly relate to the 2016 election.
The sentencing capped a stunning downfall for Manafort, a prominent figure in Republican Party circles for decades who also worked as a consultant to such international figures as former Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and Yanukovych.
Manafort worked for Trump’s campaign for five pivotal months in 2016 that included the Republican National Convention where Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, three of them as campaign chairman.
Defense lawyers had asked Ellis to sentence Manafort to between 4-1/4 and 5-1/4 years in prison, writing in their sentencing memo that Mueller’s “attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this court.”
Prosecutors did not recommend a specific sentence but had cited federal sentencing guidelines that called for 19-1/2 to 24 years in prison. Prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo that Manafort “blames everyone from the Special Counsel’s Office to his Ukrainian clients for his own criminal choices.”
Ellis had faced criticism by some in the legal community for comments he made during the trial that were widely interpreted as biased against the prosecution.
Ellis repeatedly interrupted prosecutors, told them to stop using the word “oligarch” to describe people associated with Manafort because it made him seem “despicable,” and objected to pictures of Manafort’s luxury items they planned to show jurors.
“It isn’t a crime to have a lot of money and be profligate in your spending,” Ellis told prosecutors during the trial.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan and Nathan Layne; Editing by Will Dunham
Bernie Sanders’ hiring of non-American campaign advisers may violate federal election laws, complaint says
Bernie Sanders was hit a complaint this week, claiming his presidential campaign violated federal election laws by employing non-Americans in advisery positions.
A new complaint by the Coolidge Reagan Foundation filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) notes that three members of the Sanders campaign are foreign nationals, which appears to be a violation of federal election laws that prohibit foreign interference.
Maria Belén Sisa, Sanders’ deputy national press secretary who joined the campaign last month, was among the staffers named in the complaint, as first reported by the Washington Free Beacon. Sisa claims to be an illegal immigrant whose residency is protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program for assisting illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Sisa recently caused an uproar after invoking an anti-Semitic “dual allegiance” trope of Jewish Americans while defending Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and questioning whether American Jews, including Sanders, were loyal to the United States.
The complaint notes that Sisa not only got a salary from Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, she also contributed money to it and is now serving in “an advisory position” in the 2020 campaign – all of which are “direct and serious violations” of federal election laws.
“Senator Sanders and Bernie 2020 is permitting a foreign national, Ms. Sisa, to serve in an advisory position which allows her to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to election-related activities in violation of FEC regulations,” the complaint reads.
“Senator Sanders and Bernie 2020 is permitting a foreign national, Ms. Sisa, to serve in an advisory position which allows her to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to election-related activities in violation of FEC regulations.”
According to the FEC rules, foreign nationals, who aren’t lawfully admitted permanent residents, cannot directly or indirectly participate in political campaigns. Such individuals are also barred from making political contributions.
The complaint also names two other foreign nationals on the Sanders’ 2016 campaign, immigration activists Erika Andiola and Cesar Vargas, who worked as the campaign’s national Latino outreach strategist and press secretary for Latino outreach, respectively.
“Due to the high profile of Cesar Vargas, Erika Andiola, and Maria Belén Sisa as leading activists in the undocumented community, there is reason to believe that respondents are ‘foreign nationals’ within the meaning of 52 U.S.C. § 301219b)(2), and in violation of 11 C.F.R. § 110.20 (i) and A.O. 2004-26, directly or indirectly participated in the decision-making process of persons with regard to the election-related activities of Bernie 2016,” the complaint continued.
“There is reason to believe, having previously employed Ms. Sisa, that Bernie 2020 is currently, and knowingly, permitting a ‘foreign national’ … to directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of persons with regard to the election-related activities of Bernie 2020.”
The complaint calls on the FEC to investigate both the 2016 and the current presidential campaigns and take action to curb the violations.
“The Commission should determine and impose appropriate sanctions for any and all violations,” the complaint read. “Further, the Commission should enjoin respondents from any future violations and impose any necessary and appropriate remedies to ensure respondents’ future compliance with the Federal Election Campaign Act.”
Democrats vow to keep investigating Trump despite Mueller's conclusions, no new indictments
Congressional Democrats vowed Friday to keep investigating President Trump, his family, and associates despite Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrapping up his Russia investigation with no new indictments.
‘There needs to be a reckoning’ for those who spread Russia collusion narrative: Mollie Hemingway
Those who spent the last two years pushing the narrative that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election need to be held accountable, the Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway argued Friday.
Earlier in the day, the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller handed in its report on the Russia investigation to the Department of Justice and it was announced that no new indictments would be forthcoming.
During Friday’s All-Star panel segment on Fox News’ “Special Report with Bret Baier,” Hemingway — along with Washington Free Beacon editor-in-chief Matthew Continetti and Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason — weighed in on the breaking news that reverberated throughout Washington.
Hemingway began by noting that the “Russia narrative” predates the Mueller probe, having begun circulating during the 2016 election after the creation of the infamous Clinton campaign-funded Steele dossier, which pushed the theory that then-Republican candidate Donald Trump was a “Russian agent.”
“We have, for the last three years … frequently [witnessed] hysteria about treasonous collusion with Russia to steal the 2016 election,” Hemingway told the panel. “The fact [is] that there are no more indictments coming and the fact [is] that all of the indictments that we’ve seen thus far have been for process crimes or things unrelated to what we were told by so many people in the media was ‘treasonous collusion’ to steal the 2016 election.”
“If there is nothing there that matches what we’ve heard from the media for many years, there needs to be a reckoning and the people who spread this theory both inside and outside the government who were not critical and who did not behave appropriately need to be held accountable,” she added.
“The people who spread this theory both inside and outside the government … and who did not behave appropriately need to be held accountable.”
Mason told the panel that there’s likely “some relief” in the White House, particularly from Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and top adviser. And while he insisted it was “too early” to draw major conclusions, he later added that those who attacked Mueller’s credibility throughout his investigation will have to walk back their hostility if he concludes that there was no collusion, including President Trump.
Meanwhile, Continetti suggested that the Mueller report could be the “greatest anticlimax in American history,” and that the entire investigation could be “for nothing” because it was “an investigation without a crime.” He did, however, insist that the “battle will continue” as the White House will fight Congress on transparency of the Mueller findings.
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