Facing the possibility of a prison sentence that would put him behind bars for the rest of his life, Paul Manafort pleaded for compassion.
Seated in a wheelchair before the judge who would decide his fate Thursday, Manafort said he was “humiliated and ashamed.” He said the past two years have been the most difficult he and his family have ever experienced. Months in solitary confinement and house arrest had taken a toll on his “physical and mental health,” he said, and his life, professionally and financially, has been “in shambles.”
At the end, the former Trump campaign chairman thanked U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis of the Eastern District of Virginia for the “fair trial” in August that resulted in his conviction on financial fraud charges.
Returning to the bench following a brief recess, Ellis said he was surprised by what he didn’t hear from Manafort: an expression of remorse.
“I certainly recommend that you do it in the District of Columbia,” Ellis said, referring to Manafort’s upcoming sentencing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington.
Still, Ellis handed down a 47-month prison sentence—a term that will effectively fall to three years with credit for the nine months Manafort has already served. The punishment falls more than 15 years short of what special counsel prosecutors had recommended based, in part, on what they argued was a lack of acceptance of responsibility from the longtime Republican operative.
The sentencing Thursday punctuated a high-profile case that resulted in the first trial conviction for the special counsel, Robert Mueller III, in his office’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Ellis said Manafort had lived an otherwise blameless life, and believed the more than 19 years in prison recommended by prosecutors would be excessive and create an “unwarranted disparity” with past sentences on similar charges. “The government cannot sweep away” the history of those past sentences, Ellis said as he delivered the sentence.
During the trial, Ellis drew attention for tense moments with prosecutors, whom he criticized for trying to publicly present artifacts from Manafort’s past life of luxury. And before handing down his sentence, he took parting shots at Mueller’s probe.
Early on in the hearing, Ellis made clear what Manafort had not been convicted of doing: “He’s not before the court for anything having to do with colluding with the Russian government to influence the election.” Ellis appeared to question the wisdom of giving special counsels broad authority, at one point quipping that there had been “much discussion of why the special counsel” had a case involving Manafort’s conduct before the 2016 campaign. But he also noted that he had heard a challenge to Mueller’s authority and ruled that the power granted to the special counsel’s office was broad enough to cover that conduct.
Manafort was convicted in August on eight bank and tax fraud charges. The jury deadlocked on 10 other criminal counts, but Manafort would go on to admit guilt to those as part of his September plea agreement to the separate case in Washington.
The verdict followed a weeks-long trial in which prosecutors painted a detailed picture of Manafort’s luxe lifestyle, featuring his high-end homes and a $15,000 ostrich jacket.
In the years before he joined Trump’s presidential campaign, Manafort cheated the government out of millions of dollars in taxes owed on his income from his Ukrainian lobbying work, prosecutors said. And when that income stream dried up, Manafort submitted false information to banks to secure loans to prop up his lavish lifestyle.
In Washington, another sentence awaits. Jackson is scheduled to sentence Manafort on March 13 on two counts: conspiring against the United States, and conspiring to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses.
Ellis said Thursday it would be up to Jackson whether the sentence she imposes runs concurrently or consecutively with his.
As he delivered his sentence, Ellis remarked that not everyone would like the punishment he would ultimately hand Manafort. But, he said, it would be a “just sentence.”
“And I have satisfied myself about that,” the judge said.