Manafort faces first round of sentencing

Manafort faces first round of sentencing
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE's former campaign chairman is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday afternoon in the first criminal trial of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE's Russia investigation. 

At 69, Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortWebb: Questions for Robert Mueller Top Mueller prosecutor Zainab Ahmad joins law firm Gibson Dunn Russian oligarch's story could spell trouble for Team Mueller MORE is facing 19 1/2 to 24 years in prison under sentencing guidelines. His lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III for significantly less time given his age, poor health, low risk of recidivism and cooperation with Mueller’s probe.

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Defense attorneys wrote in a sentencing memo to Ellis that Manafort is truly remorseful for his conduct and has accepted responsibility for his actions. He was convicted in August of eight criminal charges – five counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts – at a federal district court in Virginia.

They also noted Manafort admitted he was guilty of the other 10 charges that resulted in a hung jury and that he agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation as part of a plea deal to avoid another trial on separate charges in the District of Columbia. That deal imploded after the federal judge presiding over the case in D.C. ruled Manafort had lied repeatedly to the government and a federal grand jury.

Sentencing in that case, for two charges of conspiracy, is slated for Wednesday. Manafort faces a maximum of 10 years for those crimes, and District Judge Amy Berman Jackson can impose her sentence concurrently or consecutively with the one handed down by Ellis.

Mueller said in a recent filing that the government opposes Manafort getting any credit for his cooperation and that it's an additional basis for Ellis to deny any sentence reduction Manafort otherwise may have received for accepting responsibility.

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“Here, a court has already found Manafort lied to the government and the grand jury,” Mueller said. “That is not a basis for a lower sentence, but rather a more severe one.”

It’s now up to Ellis to decide how much time Manafort will spend in prison, and legal experts say he’s likely to impose a sentence that’s below the guidelines.

Gene Rossi, who worked as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia and tried seven cases before Ellis, expects Manafort to get seven to 10 years in prison.

"If I'm going to engage in tasseography, the Victorian-era practice of reading tea leaves, I think Judge Ellis will show a relative amount of compassion for Paul Manafort,” he said. “I don’t have any inside information, but my gut is he still feels the prosecution was a little too aggressive in charging him.”

Ellis said early in the case that Mueller was prosecuting Manafort just to get to President Trump, since the charges brought against him had nothing to do with Russian interference in the 2016 election or possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

“Given the investigation’s focus on President Trump’s campaign, even a blind person can see that the true target of the Special Counsel’s investigation is President Trump, not defendant, and that defendant’s prosecution is part of that larger plan,” Ellis said in June ruling that ultimately allowed Mueller to proceed with the case.

Rossi said Manafort’s age is also likely to weigh heavily on Ellis’s decision. Manafort will turn 70 on April 1.

“In my experience in three decades with the Department of Justice, whenever someone is over 60, let alone 70, judges always bend over backwards to consider their age and their life expectancy,” he said.

Thursday’s sentence will likely influence how harsh Jackson is next week in her sentencing, according to some experts.

“I think it’s going to depend on what he gets from Ellis,” said Shan Wu, a criminal defense attorney who represented Manafort’s business associate Richard Gates before he pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the U.S. and lying to the FBI.

“If he gets like 19 years with Ellis, I don’t think she will sentence him consecutively,” Wu added. “I think if he gets under 10, she might slap a little on the top of that.”

Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, declined to comment Wednesday on how the former Trump associate and his family are feeling ahead of the sentencing.

Another scenario could involve a presidential pardon, something Trump has not ruled out.

“It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?” Trump said during an interview with the New York Post in November.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

But a pardon would not preclude legal action at other levels of government.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is planning to bring charges against Manafort, according to The New York Times.