Trump's ex-campaign chief back in court for further sentencing

Paul Manafort was due to be sentenced on two conspiracy charges. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for each count.
Paul Manafort was due to be sentenced on two conspiracy charges. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for each count.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort, sentenced to 47 months in prison last week for tax and bank fraud, was set to return to court yesterday to find out whether he faces even more jail time.

Manafort, who turns 70 on April 1, was to appear before Judge Amy Berman Jackson in a federal court in Washington for sentencing on two conspiracy charges to which he has pleaded guilty.

The veteran Republican political consultant and lobbyist faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for each count.

Manafort's case is the highest-profile one yet stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

He is one of a half-dozen former Trump associates and senior aides charged by Mr Mueller, although none of them has been accused so far of direct collusion with Moscow to get Mr Trump elected to the White House.

Manafort was convicted by a jury in August of five counts of filing false income tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report a foreign bank account.

His conviction was a stunning downfall for a man who also worked on the White House bids of three Republican presidents - Mr Gerald Ford, Mr Ronald Reagan and Mr George H.W. Bush.

The charges were not connected to Manafort's role in the Trump campaign, which he headed for two months in 2016, but were related to lucrative consulting work he did for Russian-backed Ukrainian politicians from 2004 to 2014.

Prosecutors alleged that Manafort used offshore bank accounts to hide more than US$55 million (S$74.6 million) he earned working for the Ukrainians.

The money was used to support a lavish lifestyle which included purchases of luxury homes and cars, antique rugs and expensive clothes, including a US$18,500 python jacket.

He was sentenced to 47 months in prison last week by US District Judge T.S. Ellis - a jail term that was well below the federal sentencing guidelines of 19 to 24 years and was criticised by many as too lenient.

The judge described the guidelines as "excessive" and said Manafort had led an "otherwise blameless life" before being convicted of tax and bank fraud.

But Judge Jackson may not prove to be as forgiving. She sent Manafort to jail last year after he was accused of tampering with witnesses, one of the two conspiracy charges to which he has pleaded guilty.

And she ruled that Manafort had breached a plea agreement with the Special Counsel's Office by lying repeatedly to investigators.

Last week, Mr Trump said Manafort has been going through a "very tough time" and that he "feels very badly" for him.

His remarks contrasted sharply with what he had to say about his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, who has denounced his long-time boss as a racist, a conman and a cheat.

"He directly asked me for a pardon," Mr Trump said. "I said NO."

Cohen is to begin serving a three-year prison sentence on May 6 for fraud, tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and lying to Congress.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2019, with the headline 'Trump's ex-campaign chief back in court for further sentencing'. Print Edition | Subscribe