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Paul Manafort is going to prison. For how long? We’ll know soon.

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By Pete Williams and Tom Winter

WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, could face more than a decade in prison when he is sentenced in two separate court hearings this week and next.

It’s a sobering turnabout for the longtime Republican political consultant. He would have been eligible for a lighter sentence if he had adhered to a deal he made with special counsel Robert Mueller after pleading guilty in one of the two cases filed against him. Instead, the deal is off and he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

In the first charges brought by Mueller, Manafort was accused of failing to report $16.5 million in income for political consulting work on behalf of the Russian-backed government of Ukraine and its former president, Viktor Yanukovych. A jury in Alexandria, Virginia, found Manafort guilty of dodging taxes on that income and failing to report foreign lobbying. He then pleaded guilty to similar charges filed in Washington, D.C., to avoid a second trial.

The Virginia jury also convicted him of providing false information to a bank in order to get more favorable loan terms. And when he pleaded guilty in Washington, he admitted to urging some of the people involved in the Ukrainian lobbying effort to deny doing any work in the United States. When witness tampering charges were added to the Washington indictment last June, the judge overseeing the case revoked Manafort’s bail. He’s been held in jail since then, except to attend court proceedings.

None of the charges involved his work on the Trump campaign in 2016, and they have nothing to do with Mueller’s main task as special counsel — to discover whether anyone in the U.S. was helping Russia interfere in the election.

Federal guidelines call for 19-and-a-half to 24 years in prison when he is sentenced March 7 in Virginia, though the judge is free to impose a sentence below that range. For the March 13 sentencing in Washington, federal law caps the maximum sentence at 10 years.

The most critical decision for Manafort, who turns 70 on April 1, will come in that second hearing. Judge Amy Berman Jackson must decide if he will serve the two sentences at the same time or whether they must be served consecutively. Mueller’s prosecutors have so far taken no position on what the sentence should be, but they’re expected to weigh in during the Washington hearing on whether the sentences should be concurrent or consecutive.

“Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” Mueller’s prosecutors said in their pre-sentence court filings. They called for a sentence that would “reflect the seriousness of these crimes and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.”

They also said Manafort failed to truthfully answer questions from prosecutors, as he promised to do after pleading guilty to the Washington charges. He should therefore get no credit for cooperation, they said. Judge Jackson agreed that he deliberately misled members of Mueller’s team.

But Manafort’s lawyers said he deserves a more lenient sentence because he is a first-time offender, not the “lifelong and irredeemable felon” government prosecutors claim him to be. The convictions have already devastated him personally, professionally and financially, his defense said, and there is no need for a severe punishment to prevent him from committing future crimes.

“Given the severe damage to his professional reputation and the enormous investigative efforts of the special counsel to examine every aspect of his life, he poses no future risk to the public of re-offending.” Specific deterrence for someone about to turn 70 is hardly necessary, they said.

Manafort’s former business partner, Robert Gates, pleaded guilty a year ago to playing a part in hiding the money he and Manafort were paid for their lobbying work. He has since cooperated with Mueller’s investigators and testified against Manafort at the Virginia trial. His sentencing has been repeatedly delayed. Prosecutors said in January that “Gates continues to cooperate with respect to several ongoing investigations.”

If Manafort is hoping for a presidential pardon, the possibility that such an act might keep him out of prison was diminished by word last month that state prosecutors in New York were considering charging him with fraud. A president’s pardons apply only to federal convictions, not to those in state court.

Manafort’s legal saga raised some tantalizing questions but will end without providing the answers. For example, Mueller’s prosecutors said Manafort shared presidential campaign polling data in 2016 with one of his former business associates, Konstantin Kilimnik — a man with ties to Russian intelligence, according to Mueller’s team. But the nature of that data and why it was shared remain unclear.

Prosecutors also said that after pleading guilty, Manafort lied to them about “an extremely sensitive issue” in hopes of improving his chances of a presidential pardon. Nothing said in court documents or before the judge in open court have indicated what the issue was.



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Making sense of the Manafort sentences and the pardon possibilities

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By Danny Cevallos

Overall, Wednesday was a fairly successful outcome for Paul Manafort and his defense team.

Manafort, Donald Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, was sentenced in federal court to aprison term of 60 months by Judge Amy Berman Jackson in the District of Columbia. Thirty months of that sentence will be served partially concurrent to his 47 month sentence imposed by Judge T. S. Ellis last week in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia. The remaining 30 months of Judge Berman’s sentence will be served consecutive to his prior sentence, which means the clock on the D.C. sentence will not start to run until he has completed serving the first sentence.

All told, Manafort was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, but he’s getting credit for 9 months of time served. Trump said shortly after the sentencing that he’d given no thought to a pardon, although the president said he felt “very badly” for his former associate.

Manafort pleaded guilty in the D.C. case to two counts: One count of conspiracy against the U.S. and another count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

In most cases, the sentencing Guidelines range is lower than the maximum possible punishment. Manafort’s D.C. case, however, was the less common case where the advisory Guidelines range was so high, it exceeded the maximum possible sentence.

Manafort’s statutory maximum sentence was was 10 years, or 120 months.

Manafort’s guideline range was much higher than that: 188 to 235 months. That’s due in part to the fact that Manafort stood before Jackson as with a criminal history, as a sentenced felon.

In cases like this, when the Guidelines range exceeds the maximum, the range just “becomes” the same as maximum sentence: 120 months. Jackson sentenced Manafort to half that — 60 months.

Arguably, the Manafort team’s bigger concern was whether Jackson would impose consecutive sentences, or concurrent sentences. She did both.

Federal law provides that if a sentence is imposed on a defendant who is already serving another term of imprisonment, the terms may run concurrently or consecutively. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which the courts are required to consider, similarly allow a judge broad discretion in crafting a concurrent, consecutive or even a “partially concurrent” sentence.

In certain cases, the Guidelines call for a consecutive sentence, such as when the defendant committed the crime after being sentenced in an earlier case. That’s not the case with Manafort, because he did not commit the D.C. crimes in the week after he was sentenced in the Virginia case.

Otherwise, the central aim of Guidelines in the consecutive vs. concurrent analysis is to ensure that the defendant is not punished twice for the same crime. If the earlier sentence resulted from another offense that is “relevant conduct” to the second sentence, then the Guidelines suggest that the sentence for the new crime should have run concurrently to the remainder of the existing prison term.

But here’s the catch: The Sentencing Guidelines have not been mandatory for well over a decade, ever since the 2005 Supreme Court decision U.S. v. Booker. Because of the advisory nature of the Guidelines, Jackson had no obligation to impose a concurrent or partially concurrent sentence, even if the Guidelines called for a concurrent sentence.

Jackson’s sentence is an example of the considerable discretion afforded judges in the modern federal sentencing scheme: A partially concurrent sentence, well below the advisory Guidelines range.

Meanwhile, Manafort’s legal woes are just beginning in state court.

Moments after the D.C. sentence was imposed, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced an indictment charging Manafort with 16 state crimes, including mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records.

A presidential pardon is ineffective against state crimes.

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Democrats reintroduce Equality Act to ban LGBTQ discrimination

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However, with Republicans firmly in control of the White House and Senate, the bill’s chances of becoming law appear slim.

While four currently serving GOP senators voted for the 2013 Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which included some of the same protections as the Equality Act, only one Republican senator has so far backed the Equality Act: Susan Collins of Maine. In order to pass the Senate, at least four Republicans would have to support the bill (assuming every Democrat and Independent voted in favor).

In an exclusive interview with NBC News on Monday, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., were to give senators a chance to vote on the Equality Act, they would support the measure.

“If you just had an up or down vote, we would have sufficient votes in both houses,” Baldwin said.

When asked if McConnell — who controls which bills are brought to the floor for a vote — would bring the Equality Act up for a vote on the Senate floor after it is reintroduced, David Popp, McConnell’s press secretary, was equivocal: “If the Leader issues a statement on this I’ll be sure to forward it to you,” he wrote in an email.

In a tweet shared on Wednesday, Rep. Cicilline suggested that McConnell may face electoral consequences if he chooses to block the law, which had 239 cosponsors in the House as of Wednesday afternoon.

According to CNBC, the Equality Act also enjoys the support of 161 of the country’s largest and most valuable corporations, like Apple. CEO Tim Cook, who is gay, tweeted a message of support for the Equality Act.

But conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation say that “The Equality Act would undermine the freedom to think and act according to our beliefs,” according to Emilie Kao, director of the foundation’s Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society.

While President Donald Trump has not yet commented on the reintroduced Equality Act, he appears to have supported the idea of protecting gay people from discrimination in the past. In a 2000 interview with LGBTQ magazine The Advocate, Trump said he liked “the idea of amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

“It would be simple. It would be straightforward,” he said. “Amending the Civil Rights Act would grant the same protection to gay people that we give to other Americans — it’s only fair.”

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The Associated Press contributed.



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Beg your pardon? Lawmakers say pardoning Manafort a bad idea

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By Courtney Buble and Dareh Gregorian

Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday warned President Donald Trump against pardoning his former campaign chairman — a sentiment that at least one top Republican agrees with.

Shortly after Paul Manafort was sentenced to another 43 months behind bars on conspiracy charges, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that any presidential pardon “would be an obstruction of justice.”

“Pardoning Paul Manafort would in effect send a message that you can break the law, defy the justice system and then get rewarded by the president of the United States,” Blumenthal said.

A top Trump ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also chimed in against the idea.

“Pardoning Manafort would be seen as a political disaster for the president,” Graham told reporters. “There may come a day down the road, after the politics have changed, that you’d want to consider an application of him like everybody else. But now would be a disaster.”

Trump told reporters after the sentencing that he feels “very badly” for his former campaign chief, but that he had not given a possible pardon “a thought as of this moment.”

Speculation about a presidential pardon has swirled given Trump’s numerous sympathetic comments and tweets about Manafort throughout the longtime political operative’s legal ordeal — which continues in New York with the Manhattan district attorney’s announcement Wednesday of a 16-count indictment against him.

The actions of Manafort and his lawyers, too, haven’t done much to dispel the notion that they might be angling for a pardon.

Manafort pleaded guilty to two of the charges against him last year — after a separate conviction in by a federal grand jury in Virginia on several counts of tax and bank fraud — and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. But then he lied to investigators about his interactions with a possibly Russian intelligence-linked associate, and his legal team fed information to Trump’s lawyers.

Manafort’s attorneys have also echoed Trump’s language that his former campaign chairman’s criminal charges and convictions haven’t involved any conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, or as Manafort’s attorney and Trump both said Wednesday, “no collusion.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted Wednesday in response, “Another sentencing, another statement by Manafort’s lawyer repeating Trump’s mantra of ‘no collusion,’ and another barely concealed appeal for a pardon.”

“It shouldn’t fall to the Manhattan DA to deter a presidential pardon,” Schiff wrote. “Congress should take action to protect the rule of law.”

Other Democrats on Wednesday suggested there would never be a good time to pardon Manafort.

“There can be no explanation for a pardon, other than the president’s rewarding Paul Manafort for his defying a legitimate and important effort to get at the truth,” Blumenthal said.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, further warned: “Manafort is going to prison because he committed serious crimes at home while advancing the interests of Russia and other foreign countries abroad. Any attempt to pardon him would be a gross abuse of power requiring immediate action by Congress.”

A pardon would not help Manafort if he’s convicted in the New York case — the president can’t pardon state criminal convictions.

Tweeted Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y.: “Even if the president pardons #Manafort, New York will ensure he is held accountable.”



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