ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Paul Manafort, the political consultant and Trump presidential campaign chairman whose lucrative work in Ukraine and ties to well-connected Russians made him a target of special counsel Robert Mueller, was sentenced Thursday to nearly four years in prison in the financial fraud case that left his grand lifestyle and power-broker reputation in ruins.
The sentence in the highest-profile criminal case mounted by the special counsel’s office was far lighter than the 19- to 24-year prison term recommended under advisory sentencing guidelines. Judge T.S. Ellis III of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, said that although Manafort’s crimes were “very serious,” following the guidelines would have resulted in an unduly harsh punishment.
A team of Mueller’s prosecutors sat glum-faced while Ellis delivered his decision. Manafort, who suffers from gout and came to the hearing in a wheelchair with his foot heavily bandaged, had asked the judge for compassion. “To say I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” he said in a barely audible voice, reading from a laptop.
Of the half-dozen former Trump associates prosecuted by Mueller, Manafort garnered the harshest punishment yet in the case that came to a conclusion Thursday — the first of two for which Manafort is being sentenced this month. While prosecutors sought no specific sentence, they spent much of the three-hour hearing sparring with the judge over the evidence.
For nearly two years, prosecutors pursued Manafort on two tracks, charging him with more than two dozen felonies, including obstruction of justice, bank fraud and violations of lobbying laws. While they ultimately won Manafort’s agreement to cooperate, prosecutors said Thursday that Manafort provided little information of value for their inquiry into Russia’s election interference and the degree of involvement by Trump associates.
Most of what Manafort told the office of the special counsel “we already knew or was already in documents,” Greg D. Andres, the lead prosecutor in the case, said in court. “It certainly wasn’t 50 hours of information that was useful.”
The evidence in the case tried last summer before Ellis showed that Manafort hid millions of dollars of income in overseas accounts and lied to banks to obtain millions more in loans — a financial scheme that prosecutors said was rooted in greed and in Manafort’s sense that he was above the law.
They described him as a hardened, remorseless criminal who never fully accepted responsibility for his offenses and who continued to lie to federal prosecutors even after he pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts in a related case in Washington and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s office last fall.
Defense lawyers had asked for leniency, citing Manafort’s age, health problems and lack of a criminal record. He will turn 70 next month.
And Ellis appeared to agree with their arguments. “He has lived an otherwise blameless life,” the judge said of Manafort.
Manafort was a prime target for Mueller, who is believed to be winding down his 22-month investigation and is expected to deliver a report soon to Attorney General William Barr. While the prosecutions against Manafort did not involve his five months of work for the Trump campaign, prosecutors clearly hoped for the collateral benefit of winning his cooperation with the Russia inquiry.
But Manafort’s value as a witness ultimately proved limited. Prosecutors abandoned their plea agreement with him in November, saying Manafort had repeatedly lied to them. The federal judge overseeing the Washington case agreed that Manafort had deceived investigators about three matters, including his interactions with a Russian associate who prosecutors have said is linked to Russian intelligence.
Manafort will be sentenced next week in the Washington case.
The Manafort saga is drawing to a close amid lingering questions. Through an inadvertent mistake in a court filing in January, it became clear that Manafort had lied to the prosecutors about his interactions with a Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, who has been identified by prosecutors as having ties to Russian intelligence. Those interactions included Manafort’s transferring campaign polling data to Kilimnik.
The special counsel’s office had wanted that information kept out of the public eye to protect an open investigation. It remains unclear why Kilimnik would want such polling data, what exactly he did with it and whether the data transfer might have helped inform the Russian government’s covert operation to interfere with the U.S. election.
As proof of Manafort’s financial fraud scheme, prosecutors put forward exhaustive evidence of how he illegally concealed his work on behalf of political parties in Ukraine that were aligned with Russia and of how he hid more than $55 million in payments from that work in more than 30 overseas bank accounts.
Once his income from Ukraine dried up, their evidence showed, Manafort deceived banks to obtain loans to sustain a lavish lifestyle. At the same time, he worked for the Trump campaign for free, apparently hoping his status as campaign chairman would attract deep-pocketed foreign clients. He was fired from the campaign after five months when the scandal over his hidden income from Ukraine broke in August 2016.
Manafort’s lawyers repeatedly implied that the special counsel’s office pursued their client with unusual vigor because of his importance to the Russia inquiry. They said his political consulting work for four American presidents, including Trump, spoke to his high ideals. And they argued that the special counsel’s office has vilified him for what are essentially garden-variety crimes that for other defendants merited only limited time behind bars.
But prosecutors said that Manafort had been under criminal investigation before Mueller was appointed in May 2017, that his fraud scheme lasted a full decade and that he committed new crimes by tampering with witnesses after he was indicted. Those new offenses led a federal judge to revoke his bail and jail him in June.
“The defendant blames everyone from the special counsel’s office to his Ukrainian clients for his own criminal choices,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.