Paul Manafort will learn his fate Thursday afternoon, when a federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, sentences the former Trump campaign chair for financial fraud convictions.
Manafort was convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud last year following a lengthy trial in the Eastern District of Virginia. It garnered significant media attention, in part because Manafort was the first defendant in a case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller III to force prosecutors to trial. The longtime lobbyist will also be the first person convicted in Mueller’s probe to receive more than a month in prison.
Manafort, who turns 70 in April, is already staring down the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. Sentencing guidelines estimate a range of 19.5 to 24.5 years for his crimes in Virginia, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III in a Feb. 23 filing. But Manafort could face additional time from a separate criminal case in Washington, D.C.
Seeking leniency, Manafort’s attorneys have told the judge in court papers that Manafort has accepted responsibility for his actions. Prosecutors painted Manafort as a criminal who brazenly and repeatedly violated the law to hide the millions of dollars he made through his foreign lobbying work form the U.S. Treasury Department.
Here are things we’re watching:
Will Manafort speak?
Since Manafort was first charged in the District in October 2017, the public has heard little from the man himself. Manafort did not testify during his trial in Virginia last year.
He could make rare remarks tomorrow in hopes of persuading Ellis to give him a lenient sentence. His attorneys have said in court papers that Manafort has already suffered the consequences of his actions, a point that Manafort could emphasize.
The hearing will also mark Manafort’s first time back in Ellis’ courtroom after the lobbyist appeared at a hearing last year in a wheelchair with a bandaged foot. His attorneys have said Manafort, who is currently jailed in Virginia, has suffered from gout and depression.
What Will Judge Ellis Say?
Whether Ellis makes any comment as he hands Manafort his sentence will be worth watching. The Ronald Reagan appointee made waves early on in Manafort’s case when he publicly lambasted the special counsel probe. Manafort’s lawyers have even played up those themes in their sentencing memos, writing: “The Special Counsel’s strategy in bringing charges against Mr. Manafort had nothing to do with the Special Counsel’s core mandate—Russian collusion—but was instead designed to ‘tighten the screws’ to compel Mr. Manafort to cooperate and provide incriminating information about others.”
Ellis—an at times humorous, at times cantankerous force—also caught heat during the trial for needling prosecutors to quicken their pace.
The judge has also been critical of federal sentencing laws. In a sentencing hearing for a convicted drug dealer last year, Ellis expressed frustration with mandatory minimums, as he sentenced the man to the minimum of 40 years’ imprisonment. “This situation presents me with something I have no discretion to change and the only thing I can do is express my displeasure,” he said.
What About the D.C. Sentencing?
Manafort is also set to be sentenced in Washington, D.C., on March 13. Judge Amy Berman Jackson will sentence him after he pleaded guilty in September to two criminal counts: conspiring against the United States and conspiring to tamper with potential witnesses. She’ll also likely take into account her finding this month that Manafort intentionally lied to federal authorities during the course of his cooperation, in violation of his plea deal.
Manafort’s attorneys say he faces a maximum of 10 years combined for those counts in D.C. They’ve also argued that he should serve his sentences in D.C., and Virginia, at the same time, because they say the underlying conduct in those cases was related. Prosecutors have not yet told judges whether Manafort should serve his sentences concurrently or consecutively.