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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 27 March 2019

Paul Manafort may be about to face a harsher judge and sentence

Donald Trump's former campaign manager's 47-month jail term seen as lenient

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is the highest profile figure to be jailed since the 2016 election. Reuters
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is the highest profile figure to be jailed since the 2016 election. Reuters

The first criminal case against Paul Manafort exposed a decade-long fraudulent attempt to hide tens of millions of dollars from US authorities but his conviction has taken on broader significance given his relationship with Donald Trump and what he might know about the US president.

Mr Manafort's initial term of 47 months' imprisonment will likely stretch on Wednesday when he is sentenced in Washington on separate charges of witness tampering and conspiracy.

As Mr Trump's former campaign manager he is the highest profile figure to be jailed since the 2016 election that brought the former to power.

Last week's sentencing has sharpened attention on the activities of special counsel Robert Mueller, under whose inquiry Mr Manafort was charged and who is soon expected to conclude a report on whether there was collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Mr Manafort's jail term is minimal compared to the 19 to 24 years that the Mueller team had sought under federal sentencing guidelines. Many legal experts viewed the sentence as lenient, contrasting it with much longer periods of imprisonment given to non-white criminals and those who commit so-called white-collar offences such as money laundering and fraud.

Although Mr Manafort was charged with offences unrelated to possible collusion with Russia, the jail sentence, so far, is the longest handed down to any associate of the president.

In explaining his decision, judge T.S Ellis said the 69-year-old veteran Republican political consultant had lived an otherwise blameless life but those remarks were overshadowed by Mr Trump who falsely cited the judge as saying the case had proved that there had been no collusion with Russia.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort appears for sentencing in this court sketch in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Bill Hennessy NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort appears for sentencing in this court sketch in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. Reuters

What Mr Ellis actually said was that Mr Manafort – jailed for hiding $55 million that he and associates received from Ukraine for political consulting work – “was not before the court for any allegations that he or anybody under his direction colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election”.

After sentencing, Mr Manafort's lawyer Kevin Downing said the judge had outlined that his client was not involved in collusion with Russia but he did not address whether other members of the Trump campaign team had been.

The US president's increasingly politicised condemnation of the Mueller inquiry – he calls it a witch hunt – stands against half a dozen convictions already obtained.

Mr Manafort's former deputy Rick Gates reached a plea deal with the special counsel's office and is awaiting sentencing.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, convicted of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador to Washington and other officials, also awaits sentencing. He is believed to have since cooperated with Mr Mueller's team.

George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, also admitted lying to the FBI and spent 12 days in prison, having been the first person convicted under the Mueller probe.

Another Trump associate, the flamboyant political adviser Roger Stone who is currently silenced by court decree, is awaiting trial.

Wednesday's sentencing of Mr Manafort is due to take place in the court of Judge Amy Berman Jackson. The charges carry a maximum 10-year sentence. It was Judge Jackson who ordered that the accused go to jail last year after he attempted to tamper with witnesses in the case.

In a sign of the increased political stakes over the jail sentences handed down to aides to Mr Trump, the conviction of Mr Manafort – who lied and reneged on a commitment to cooperate with Mr Mueller's inquiry – has renewed the prospect of the president granting him a pardon.

Having previously castigated Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer for a decade, as a “rat” for furnishing the Russia inquiry with information about Mr Trump's contacts with Moscow, the US president went further on Friday, accusing him of lying under oath to Congress about seeking a pardon.

That tweet raised questions about why Mr Trump did not offer such a claim when Mr Cohen testified to Congress more than a week earlier and called the president “a liar, a conman and a cheat”.

Mr Cohen countered by saying the president was adding more lies to his past denials and subsequent admissions that during the election campaign two women had been paid off having said they had affairs with Mr Trump.

Mr Cohen, who himself is facing jail, supplied Congress with a copy of the cheque that the president wrote him in reimbursement of the settlements with the two women, Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film star Stormy Daniels, as well as other documentary evidence to back up his version of events.

Updated: March 10, 2019 11:55 AM

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