WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort will be sentenced by a second judge on Wednesday who will determine whether to add to a surprisingly lenient four-year prison sentence imposed in a separate case last week.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson, of the US District Court in Washington, can give Manafort up to 10 years – five for each of the two conspiracy counts he pleaded guilty to last year in a cooperation deal with prosecutors that later imploded after he was found to have lied.
Jackson’s sentence will mark the end of a two-year legal battle between Manafort, a veteran Republican political operative who worked for Trump’s campaign for five months in 2016, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who made exposing Manafort’s covert lobbying for pro-Kremlin politicians in Ukraine a centrepiece of his Russia probe.
It also comes as expectations grow that Mueller will soon wrap up his 22-month-old investigation by submitting a final report on his findings to Attorney General William Barr.
Manafort’s sentence on Thursday by US District Judge T.S. Ellis in Virginia, where he was convicted for financial crimes, was two decades below the upper limit of federal sentencing guidelines, prompting criticism among legal experts that it was too light.
In the Washington case, Manafort will be sentenced for conspiracy against the United States, which included a range of conduct from money laundering to unregistered lobbying, and a second count related to witness tampering.
In addition to its length, the focus will be on what portion of her sentence Jackson decides to run simultaneously with the 47 months imposed by Ellis, and what time, if any, she tacks on to run consecutively. In September Jackson warned Manafort, who turns 70 in April, that she had discretion on the matter.
Shanlon Wu, a Washington criminal defence attorney, said Jackson would have to weigh the fact that Manafort admitted his guilt, a mitigating factor, against her finding that he lied to prosecutors in breach of his plea deal, which freed prosecutors from any obligation to recommend leniency.
Wu predicted Jackson’s sentence would likely add about three years to his total prison time.
“I think she will run some of her time consecutively,” said Wu, who appeared before Jackson during a previous stint representing Manafort’s former business associate Rick Gates. “I would be surprised if she really threw the book at him.”
A tale of two judges
Mueller’s team has not made a specific recommendation on Manafort’s sentencing in the Washington case but called him a “hardened” criminal in a filing last month, arguing he should be held accountable for the “gravity” of his crimes.
Manafort’s lawyers countered that their client should be given credit for admitting his guilt while also stressing that none of the Mueller’s charges related to the special counsel’s core mandate: collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Ellis, who has been critical of the special counsel, echoed that sentiment at the hearing on Thursday, later prompting a misleading claim by Trump that the judge had exonerated his campaign.
Jackson has displayed a more even-handed stance, defence lawyers said. She allowed a disagreement over Manafort’s bail to carry on for months and only threw him in jail last June when he was indicted for an attempt to tamper with witnesses in the case.
“This a tale of two judges. Judge Ellis showed little restraint in his comments as well as his action,” said George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley. “Judge Jackson has shown considerable restraint.”
While many people believe Ellis’ sentence was “absurdly low,” Turley said he did not think Jackson would seek to rectify the matter, saying it was not “the providence of a second federal judge to correct an error by the first judge.”
Whatever Jackson’s ruling, the possibility of a presidential pardon – a prospect Trump has not ruled out — will likely continue to hang over the Manafort situation, lawyers said.
A pardon might not, however, end Manafort’s legal troubles.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office is pursuing criminal charges against Manafort, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters last month. The charges, which originate from unpaid state taxes, could not be erased by a presidential pardon, which are only applicable to federal crimes.