Paul Manafort, former campaign chair for US President Donald Trump, will now spend six years and nine months behind bars. Picture: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER
Paul Manafort, former campaign chair for US President Donald Trump, will now spend six years and nine months behind bars. Picture: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER

Washington — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort was sentenced to about three-and-a-half more years in prison and was hit with a fresh set of criminal charges in New York on Wednesday, drawing sympathy from a president who declined to say whether he would issue a pardon.

Manafort, 69, is due to spend six years and nine months behind bars when the sentence issued by US district judge Amy Berman Jackson for crimes related to secret lobbying and witness tampering is combined with another sentence issued by a different judge in Virginia last Thursday.

Manafort, who has already served nine months in prison, has received the longest jail sentence yet in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

During the sentencing hearing, Jackson lectured Manafort over his lies and criminal behaviour after he made a plea for leniency.

Just minutes after Jackson read her sentence, the Manhattan district attorney unveiled a separate indictment charging Manafort with residential mortgage fraud and other New York state crimes, which unlike the federal charges cannot be erased by a presidential pardon.

Trump, who in November said he had not ruled out giving Manafort a pardon, on Wednesday said “I have not even given it a thought.”

“It’s not something that’s right now in my mind. I do feel badly for Paul Manafort — that I can tell you,” the Republican president told reporters at the White House.

Jackson told Manafort he had lied repeatedly and committed fraud repeatedly, and there was no good explanation for the leniency he sought.

“Saying ‘I’m sorry I got caught’ is not an inspiring plea for leniency,” Jackson told Manafort, who was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair because of a condition called gout.

Jackson could have given Manafort up to 10 years in prison in the Washington case — five for each of the two conspiracy counts.

Manafort’s lawyers have noted that the charges that are sending him to prison are related to his work as an international political consultant and lobbyist, not his time with the Trump campaign. They have also said the case does not prove that the campaign worked with Russia to help Trump win the election.

“But for a short stint as a campaign manager in a presidential election, I don’t think we’d be here today,” Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing told Jackson.

Jackson suggested that argument was aimed at winning a pardon from Trump.

“The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non sequitur that does not bear on the question of the appropriate sentence,” she said.

Jackson added that Mueller’s investigation, which is ongoing, could yet reveal that Manafort worked with Russian interests during the campaign.

The charges unsealed in New York on Wednesday spelled more legal trouble for Manafort. The 16-count indictment accused Manafort and others of falsifying business records to fraudulently obtain millions of dollars in mortgages. The allegations appeared to mirror some of the fraud charges in his Virginia trial.

Mueller investigation

“No-one is beyond the law in New York,” district attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Mueller is preparing to submit to US attorney-general William Barr a report on his investigation into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia and whether Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe. Trump has denied collusion and obstruction and Russia has denied US intelligence findings that it interfered in the 2016 election in an effort to boost Trump.

In the Washington case, Manafort was sentenced for two conspiracy counts to which he pleaded guilty in September 2018.

“I am sorry for what I have done and for all the activities that have gotten us here today,” Manafort told Jackson.

“This case has taken everything from me already — my properties, my cash, my life insurance, trust accounts for my children and grandchildren, and even more,” Manafort said.

Jackson ruled on February 13 that Manafort had breached his agreement in the Washington case to co-operate with Mueller’s office by lying to prosecutors about three matters pertinent to the Russia probe, including his interactions with a business partner they have said has ties to Russian intelligence.

Manafort is one of the 34 people and three companies charged by Mueller. Several others including former campaign aides Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen have pleaded guilty, while longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone has pleaded not guilty.

The two criminal cases pursued by the Mueller case caused a remarkable downfall for Manafort, a prominent figure in Republican Party circles for decades who also worked as a consultant to such international figures as former Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and pro-Russia former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.