The Mueller investigation has linked Paul Manafort to Russia, but what does that mean for Trump and the 2016 presidential campaign?
Hannah Gaber, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – From an ostrich coat to a prison jumpsuit, Paul Manafort’s downfall has been on full display.
Manafort, a longtime Republican consultant, went from living a lavish lifestyle and working for numerous presidents, including Donald Trump, to calling a prison cell his home.
Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison on Thursday for charges including bank and tax fraud. He faces another sentence of up to 10 years in another case in the District of Columbia.
Here are five things to know about his crumbling legacy from pristine political operative to a convicted felon.
The lavish life of a political operative
Manafort was a well known political operative who for decades helped elect Republicans. In fact, his work helped four Republican presidents reach the White House, including Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
In the 1980s, his career started to include lobbying work, where he went on to represent top leaders in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine. He focused on lobbying to better the image of some leaders in Washington and gaining support particular efforts.
His lobbying firm, Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, had several controversial clients over the years and was criticized in a 1992 Center for Public Integrity report titled, “The Torturer’s Lobby.”
Among those represented by the firm were the brutal Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, a business group tied to the corrupt former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Zaire’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, the Nigerian military government under General Ibrahim Babangida and the Bahamian government under former Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling, who was suspected of close ties to drug traffickers.
Riva Levinson, a former colleague of Manafort’s, described his effort to land Somalian dictator Siad Barre as a client and said she was put off by his “mercenary attitude” toward the business.
His work in Ukraine, in particular, ended up becoming a large focus of special counsel Robert Mueller. Much of the work focused on the election in 2010 of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who sought refuge in Russia after losing power.
Manafort accumulated millions throughout his Ukrainian lobbying deal, allowing for a lavish life filled with numerous homes, expensive watches and designer suits, including several from a store regarded as the most expensive men’s store in the world.
He also purchased a $1.9 million home in Arlington, Va. and spent about $6.4 million on real estate throughout New York and Virginia.
That spending later became an interest to Mueller and his team.
Manafort’s work with the Trump campaign
Manafort pitched his campaign services to Trump in February 2016 via a mutual friend, Thomas J. Barrack Jr. He touted his international experience, saying the fact he hadn’t worked for the “political establishment” since 2005 left him free of any “Washington baggage” in a letter obtained by The New York Times.
Roger Stone, Manafort’s former partner and a longtime friend of Trump, also recommended Manafort. Stone told the Hartford Courant that he pitched Manafort to Trump as “the best delegate counter in the GOP” and as someone who could “bring structure and professionalism” to the campaign.
Trump liked what he heard and Manafort joined the campaign in March. But his role wrangling delegates and convention planning quickly expanded. And he took charge after Trump fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on June 20.
Manafort was widely credited with getting Trump to stick closer to script (at least temporarily) but nonetheless, he was gone two months after taking the helm. Trump reportedly wanted someone tougher in charge and resented Manafort’s efforts to rein him in.
Manafort was also driven out by reports that surfaced about his ties to pro-Russian groups in Ukraine. Eric Trump told Fox News that his father didn’t want “the distraction looming over the campaign”
Indictment outlines crimes
Manafort was one of the first indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
A grand jury indicted the former campaign chairman and his associate Rick Gates in October 2017 on charges that they secretly worked on behalf of pro-Russian factions in Ukraine, then laundered millions of dollars in profits through foreign bank accounts. In all, prosecutors alleged that $75 million passed through offshore bank accounts that the men controlled.
Prosecutors outlined that much of Manafort’s wealth was funneled through foreign accounts, shielding his income from being taxed.
Prosecutors in Virginia said that the men sought to cover up their work even while they held senior roles in Trump’s campaign.
Manafort has long been a central figure in Mueller’s investigation. FBI agents raided his apartment in the summer of 2017. He had also come under scrutiny both for his work in Ukraine and his participation in a meeting in 2016 between Donald Trump, Jr. and a Russian lawyer promising damaging information about Clinton.
Manafort has not been charged in for his role in the meeting, nor has anyone else who was in attendance.
The indictment charging both Manafort and Gates made no reference to Manafort’s work on Trump’s campaign or any collusion with Russia. But it alleges that Manafort’s efforts to conceal his work on behalf of Ukraine continued while he was running the Trump campaign.
As late as Aug. 19, 2016, three days before Trump fired him, the indictment alleges that Manafort and Gates sent “false talking points” to one of the political consulting firms they had hired to lobby on behalf of pro-Russian factions in Ukraine.
Manafort “used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States,” prosecutors wrote. Investigators traced wire transfers from bank accounts in Cyprus that Manafort allegedly used to pay his landscapers and to buy a Mercedes and three Range Rovers. Prosecutors also said that he used the accounts to pay more than $1.3 million to clothing stores in New York and Beverly Hills.
When U.S. authorities made inquiries about the payments last year, Manafort and Gates responded “with a series of false and misleading statements,” prosecutors alleged.
Manafort fought hard against the accusations and was the first charged by Mueller’s office to take the fight to trial. He argued Mueller exceeded his authority by charging him with crimes not pertaining to Russia.
He was found guilty by a jury in August of eight federal crimes, including bank fraud and filing false tax returns.
The guilty verdict meant he could face decades behind bars, potentially dying in prison.
But that wasn’t the last of Manafort’s problems. He also faced another trial stemming from similar charges in the District of Columbia that were also filed in October 2017 ranging from acting as a foreign agent for Ukraine, funneling money through offshore accounts to hide his income and providing false statements.
After the guilty verdict, Manafort and his legal counsel devised a new strategy: cooperate for the possibility of a lower sentence.
Manafort’s attempt to cooperate with feds
It was an attempt — but a failed one, according to prosecutors.
Manafort entered into an agreement in September where he pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the District of Columbia in exchange for him cooperating with Mueller’s investigation and the possibility of a reduced sentence.
But only two months later, Mueller sought to void the plea agreement after prosecutors alleged that Manafort had misled them about his interactions with a Russian business associate, his contacts with Trump’s administration and other subjects.
Manafort met with prosecutors and FBI agents on 12 occasions, including three before entering the plea agreement. He also testified before a grand jury on Oct. 26 and Nov. 2. Prosecutors informed Manafort’s lawyers on Nov. 8 that they “believed that Manafort had lied in multiple ways and on multiple occasions.”
New court filings from special counsel Robert Mueller outline the levels of cooperation from Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort.
Prosecutors had accused Manafort of lying to them about five subjects, ranging from his interactions with a Russian business associate to his contacts with the Trump administration. He was also accused of lying about sharing polling data with the Russian national, Konstantin Kilimnik, and about meeting with him in Madrid, according to court documents.
Prosecutors alleged that Manafort lied about how many times he met Kilimnik, according to a partially redacted transcript of a Feb. 4 hearing. Prosecutors contend Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence, which he has denied.
Manafort’s lawyers said it wasn’t surprising he didn’t remember sharing polling data because he was busy with the campaign.
“Such a failure is unsurprising here, where these occurrences happened during a period when Mr. Manafort was managing a U.S. presidential campaign and had countless meetings, email communications, and other interactions with many different individuals, and traveled frequently,” his lawyers said in the filing.
Continued crimes, sentencing
During Thursday’s hourslong sentencing hearing, Manafort asked for compassion. Speaking from a wheelchair, he said he was “humiliated” and “ashamed” of his conduct.
U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis appeared to partially side with Manafort, calling a sentence of 12 to 25 years behind bars excessive.
The 47-month sentence was well below the sentencing guidelines and what prosecutors had asked that Manafort be sentenced. The leniant sentence will put added focus on Manafort’s case in the District of Columbia, where he’s pleaded guilty to two charges.
Before Manafort’s sentencing on Thursday in his Virginia case, prosecutors painted a damning picture of him in a sentencing memo for his crimes in the District of Columbia, saying Manafort was a “hardened” criminal who “brazenly violated the law” and urged that his sentence not be reduced.
In the court filing from Mueller’s office, prosecutors urged a federal judge not to reduce the sentence for Paul Manafort for his conspiracy case in the District of Columbia and alleged that Manafort continued to commit crimes even after he was indicted.
“For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law,” prosecutor Andrew Weissmann wrote in the 25-page sentencing memo, which was accompanied by 800 pages of partially redacted exhibits. “His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment.”
Prosecutors said Manafort deserved a significant sentence without specifying what it should be, but that it shouldn’t include credit for his promise to cooperate.
Federal guidelines call for a sentence roughly double what Manafort could receive. The guidelines called for a 17- to nearly 22-year term for the charges in the case. But the sentence for the two charges he acknowledged is capped at 10 years. Whatever he receives could run after the sentence in his Virginia case.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson and Bart Jansen
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