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Trump campaign ex-chief Manafort to be sentenced later Thursday

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Trump campaign ex-chief Manafort to be sentenced later Thursday

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Reuters) – Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, will be sentenced by a U.S. judge in Virginia on Thursday for bank and tax fraud uncovered during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis could effectively deliver a life sentence to Manafort, 69, if he follows federal sentencing guidelines cited by prosecutors that call for 19-1/2 to 24 years in prison for the eight charges the veteran Republican political consultant was convicted of by a jury in Alexandria last August.

The sentencing hearing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. EST.

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.

Manafort faces sentencing in a separate case in Washington on March 13 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 whatever prison time Ellis imposes in Virginia, rather than allowing the sentences to run concurrently.

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. Jackson’s ruling could have an impact on the severity of his sentence in both cases.

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.

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.

STUNNING DOWNFALL

Mueller’s charges led to the stunning downfall of 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.

Defense lawyers have asked Ellis to sentence Manafort to between 4-1/4 and 5-1/4 years in prison. They are expected to tell the judge Manafort is remorseful and that the sentencing guidelines cited by prosecutors call for a prison term disproportionate to the offenses he committed.

“The Special Counsel’s attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this court,” his lawyers wrote in their sentencing memo.

Prosecutors have not suggested a specific sentence. Mueller’s office, in court filings, said that only Manafort is to blame for his crimes, that he has shown no remorse and that his lies to prosecutors after his guilty plea should be taken into account.

“The defendant blames everyone from the Special Counsel’s Office to his Ukrainian clients for his own criminal choices,” prosecutors wrote.

Manafort will be sentenced by a judge who faced criticism by some in the legal community for making comments 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.

FILE PHOTO: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort arrives for arraignment on a third superseding indictment against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of witness tampering, at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

“It isn’t a crime to have a lot of money and be profligate in your spending,” Ellis told prosecutors.

At one point, Ellis chided prosecutors for spending time on a loan that a bank ultimately did not give Manafort, even though it is a crime to defraud a bank regardless of whether the loan is granted.

Ellis apologized later in the trial after erroneously accusing prosecutors of letting a tax expert witness be present to hear testimony from other witnesses without the court’s permission. Ellis had granted permission.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham

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Trump says he does not mind if public sees Mueller’s Russia probe report

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Trump says he does not mind if public sees Mueller's Russia probe report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he does not mind if the public is allowed to see the report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is preparing about his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any possible links to the Trump campaign.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs on travel to Ohio at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“Let it come out, let people see it, that’s up to the attorney general … and we’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“We’ll see if it’s fair,” he added.

Mueller is preparing to submit a report to U.S. Attorney General William Barr on his findings, including Russia’s role in the election and whether Trump unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction. Russia has denied interfering in the election.

Barr already is coming under pressure from lawmakers to make the entire document public quickly, though he has wide latitude in what to release.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 420-0 last week on a non-binding resolution calling for Mueller’s report to be released both to Congress and to the public, but it is not clear how the measure will fare in the Senate.

Asked if the public should be allowed to see the report, Trump said: “I don’t mind.” He said he had no idea when it would be released.

As he has before, Trump questioned the legitimacy of Mueller’s investigation.

“I had the greatest electoral victory – one of them – in the history of our country, tremendous success, tens of millions of voters and now somebody’s going to write a report who never got a vote,” he said.

Mueller was appointed to handle the Russia investigation in May 2017 after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who had been overseeing the effort. Mueller has previously held several senior positions in the Justice Department, including FBI Director.

Reporting by Steve Holland; writing by David Alexander and Andy Sullivan; editing by Tim Ahmann and Jonathan Oatis

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Clarence Thomas makes rare intervention during Supreme Court arguments

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Clarence Thomas makes rare intervention during Supreme Court arguments

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas surprised court watchers on Wednesday when he made a rare intervention in court arguments — asking a question in a case where a death row inmate is challenging his conviction and sentence.

Thomas, who is the only African-American and the only Southerner on the court, asked his rare question toward the end of arguments in a case involving a black Mississippi death row inmate, Curtis Flowers, who was tried six different times for the 1996 murders of four people in a furniture store.

CLARENCE THOMAS BACKS TRUMP’S CALL FOR CHANGING DEFAMATION LAW TO EASE SUITS AGAINST MEDIA

Flowers’ lawyers claims a white prosecutor had a history of impermissibly using jury strikes to exclude African-Americans from the jury.

The Associated Press reported that a clear majority of the court appeared “troubled” by the actions of the prosecutor — District Attorney Doug Evans — in the prosecution of Flowers.

Thomas asked if Flowers’ lawyers in the case had made similar decisions, and the race of any struck jurors. Lawyer Sheri Lynn Johnson said three white jurors were excused by Flowers’ lawyer.

According to The Washington Post, two of Flowers’ trials were hung, and convictions in three others were overturned because of misconduct by Evans.

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But the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld his 2010 conviction, despite Evans striking five of six black jurors, arguing that Evans had race-neutral reasons for the strikes.

Thomas’ last questions in a case  were in 2016, and that was his first intervention in a decade. He has said previously that he relies on the written briefs and believes his colleagues interrupt too much.

Fox News’ Bill Mears and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Trump says he doesn’t mind if public sees Mueller’s Russia probe report

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Trump says he doesn't mind if public sees Mueller's Russia probe report

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs on travel to Ohio at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he does not mind if the public is allowed to see the report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is preparing about his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any possible links to the Trump campaign.

Mueller is expected to send his report to Attorney General William Barr soon.

Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Tim Ahmann

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