US & Canada

Paul Manafort: Ex-Trump campaign chief jailed for fraud

Paul Manafort arrives for a court hearing in Washington DC in June 2018 Image copyright AFP

US President Donald Trump's ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort has been given a 47-month prison sentence for fraud.

He was convicted last year of hiding millions of dollars of income earned by his political consulting in Ukraine.

The charges stem from an inquiry into alleged Russian election meddling in the 2016 US elections.

None of Manafort's charges relate to allegations of collusion with Russia. Mr Trump has always denied the charge, describing the inquiry as a witch hunt.

The 47-month sentence is far shorter than what was recommended by US Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Mr Mueller is thought to be finishing up his 22-month investigation, which has dogged the Trump presidency.

Image copyright William Hennessy Jr
Image caption Manafort entered court wearing a green prison jumpsuit and in a wheelchair

Manafort, 69, is due to be sentenced in another case next week related to his illegal lobbying.

His sentencing marks a spectacular downfall for a Republican political guru who advised four US presidents, including Mr Trump, and foreign leaders.

What happened at the hearing?

Manafort - who will receive credit for time served - must also pay $24m (£18m) in restitution and a $50,000 fine.

He addressed the court on Thursday evening in Alexandria, Virginia, saying "the last two years have been the most difficult of my life".

"To say I am humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement," he added, asking the judge to be "compassionate".

He described his life as "professionally and financially in shambles".

Judge TS Ellis said he was surprised that Manafort did not "express regret for engaging in wrongful conduct".

The formerly dapper lobbyist - who entered the court wearing a green prison jumpsuit and in a wheelchair - was impassive as he learned his fate.

Was the sentence too short?

Judge Ellis said sentencing guidelines cited by prosecutors calling for between 19.5 and 24 years in prison were "excessive" compared to sentences for similar crimes.

"The government cannot sweep away the history of all these previous sentences," he said. "Clearly the guidelines were way out of whack on this."

He added that Manafort had lived an "otherwise blameless" life where he "earned the admiration of a number of people".

Many Democrats have reacted to the sentence with disappointment.

US Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president, said Manafort had "led far from a 'blameless life'".

Meanwhile, ex-CIA Director John Brennan described it as "an extraordinarily lenient sentence... Paul Manafort has a demonstrated track record of criminal, unethical, unprincipled behaviour."

Others have contrasted Manafort's sentence with those convicted of other crimes, arguing that the US legal system is lenient on white collar crime.

One lawyer highlighted how his client was offered between 36 and 72 months for stealing $100 (£76).

He added that he was "not advocating for worse treatment for all", but wished his clients would get the "same treatment as the privileged few".

News website USA Today points out that, in the district where Manafort was sentenced, those convicted of fraud are normally jailed for an average of 36 months.

Legal experts have also pointed out that Judge Ellis has a history of criticising mandatory minimum sentences - including those for drug and gun crimes - as he believes judges should have more discretion over jail sentences.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Manafort pictured with Donald Trump at the Republican convention in July 2016

What's the background to the case?

A jury in Alexandria, Virginia, convicted Manafort last August of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failing to declare a foreign bank account.

The judge, however, declared a mistrial on 10 other fraud-related charges.

Manafort was indicted for hiding $55m in offshore bank accounts in Cyprus, money he was paid as a political consultant for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians.

Prosecutors say Manafort failed to pay more than $6m in taxes, as he funded his opulent lifestyle, including a $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket and a luxury renovation of his mansion in the Hamptons.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionManafort's indictment: Where did all the money go?

Manafort served three months as Trump's campaign chairman until August 2016, when he was forced to resign over his previous work in Ukraine.

He was the first former Trump aide to be arrested in the special counsel investigation, in October 2017.

His legal team has previously said he suffers from debilitating foot pain resulting from gout as a result of his incarceration.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Manafort will be held in a federal facility in Cumberland, Maryland

Manafort's bail was revoked for alleged witness-tampering and he has been held in solitary confinement for nine months.

How was Manafort treated in prison?

When news of the solitary confinement first emerged it caused controversy, with commentators describing it as a form of "torture".

Manafort's lawyers acknowledged that the solitary confinement was put in place to guarantee Manafort's safety, but argued that he should not have been detained at all.

They said Manafort was "locked in his cell for at least 23 hours per day" and could not adequately prepare his defence.

Mr Mueller said Manafort had enjoyed privileges in solitary confinement including "a private, self-contained living unit, which is larger than other inmates' units, his own bathroom and shower facility, his own personal telephone, and his own workspace to prepare for trial."

According to court filings submitted by Mr Mueller's team, Mr Manafort said on monitored phone calls from jail that he was "being treated like a 'VIP'".

How does the case relate to the Russia inquiry?

Manafort has not been charged with anything related to the special counsel's investigation into an alleged Russian plot to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Manafort's lawyers had argued that the charges were outside the special counsel's remit.

However, Democrats point out that a Washington DC judge last month backed the special counsel's contention that Manafort lied about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, an aide alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence.

In February, Manafort's lawyers inadvertently revealed in a court filing that their client had shared polling data about the 2016 Trump campaign with Mr Kilimnik.

The president's critics also highlight that Manafort was present at a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign staff and a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer promising "dirt" on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

During sentencing the judge noted that the charges do not relate to alleged Russian meddling, leading to Mr Trump to claim vindication in a tweet mischaracterising the judge's remarks.

What's the other case?

Manafort is due to be sentenced next Wednesday in another case brought by the special counsel, this time in Washington DC.

He pleaded guilty in September to two felony counts - conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice - related to his lobbying.

He also agreed to co-operate with the special counsel inquiry in a deal for a possible lighter sentence.

However, just two months later that plea deal collapsed as investigators said Manafort had repeatedly lied to the government. He faces a maximum of 10 years in the case.

President Trump, who frequently denounces the Mueller investigation, has not ruled out granting a presidential pardon to Manafort.

He said in November: "I wouldn't take it off the table."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The special counsel is expected any day to submit his report to the US attorney general

What's happening with the Mueller inquiry?

The special counsel is expected soon to submit his report to US Attorney General William Barr.

The political world is feverishly anticipating findings on whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia, or if Mr Trump unlawfully sought to obstruct the inquiry.

Mr Trump has denied collusion and obstruction and Russia has denied election interference.

Five other Trump aides have been charged in connection with Mr Mueller's investigation.

None have been indicted with criminally conspiring to subvert the 2016 election.

Former campaign staff Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, former US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen have all pleaded guilty.

Long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone has pleaded not guilty.