WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump`s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, at a sentencing hearing before a federal US judge on Wednesday, apologised for his actions and asked for leniency after getting a surprisingly light sentence of under four years in prison in a separate case last week. Both cases arise from Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation into Russia`s role in the 2016 US election.
Manafort, the veteran Republican political consultant, was in federal court in Washington for sentencing by US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on two conspiracy counts to which he pleaded guilty, related to money laundering, unregistered lobbying and witness tampering. He showed a measure of remorse, unlike at his sentencing in his other case last Thursday.
"I am sorry for what I have done and for all the activities that have gotten us here today," Manafort told the judge.
"This case has taken everything from me already - my properties, my cash, my life insurance, trust accounts for my children and grandchildren, and even more," Manafort added.
Manafort, 69, asked Jackson not to tack on any more prison time beyond the 47 months imposed by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in Virginia, where he was convicted by a jury of tax fraud and bank fraud.
Earlier in the hearing Jackson said she would not be swayed by last week`s sentence from Ellis, which was more than two decades below the upper limit of sentencing guidelines, prompting widespread criticism it was too light.
Jackson can give Manafort up to 10 years -- five for each of the two conspiracy counts he pleaded guilty to - and has the option of stacking the time on top of his Virginia sentence or running it concurrently.
"What`s happening today is not and cannot be a review or a revision of a sentence that was imposed by another court," the judge said.
Jackson ruled that Manafort should get a tougher sentence because he acted in a leadership role, directing others to participate in a crime, rejecting a defense argument that the sentencing enhancement should only apply to those who lead criminal organizations.
But she said Manafort should get credit for acceptance of responsibility, because he pleaded guilty to the conduct at issue, even though she found he had lied to prosecutors in breach of a cooperation agreement.
The hearing was ongoing.
Manafort, who is suffering from a condition called gout, entered Jackson`s courtroom in a wheelchair wearing a dark suit and tie.
Jackson`s sentence may mark the end of a nearly two-year legal battle between Manafort, who worked for Trump`s campaign for five months in 2016, and Mueller, who made exposing Manafort`s covert lobbying for pro-Kremlin politicians in Ukraine a centerpiece of his Russia probe.
Mueller`s team had not made a specific recommendation on Manafort`s sentencing. But prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said during the hearing that Manafort had engaged in an extensive cover-up that deceived the U.S. government and the American public, and continued to try to undermine the investigation even after he pleaded guilty.
"Paul Manafort`s upbringing, his education, his means, his opportunities could have led him to be a leading example for this country. At each juncture, though, Mr. Manafort chose to take a different path," Weissmann said.
"He engaged in crime again and again. He has not learned a harsh lesson. He has served to undermine, not promote, American ideals," Weissmann added.
Kevin Downing, Manafort`s lawyer, argued that he would not have been caught if he had not worked on the Trump campaign.
"But for a short stint as a campaign manger in a presidential election, I don`t think we`d be here today," Downing said, asking Jackson to take media coverage of the case into account when she determines his prison sentence.
In addition to its length, the focus will be on what portion of her sentence Jackson decides to run simultaneously with the 47 months imposed by Ellis, and what time, if any, she tacks on to run consecutively. In September Jackson warned Manafort, who turns 70 in April, that she had discretion on the matter.
Shanlon Wu, a Washington criminal defense attorney, said Jackson would have to weigh the fact that Manafort admitted his guilt, a mitigating factor, against her finding that he lied to prosecutors in breach of his plea deal, which freed prosecutors from any obligation to recommend leniency.
Wu predicted Jackson`s sentence would likely add about three years to his total prison time. "I think she will run some of her time consecutively," said Wu, who appeared before Jackson during a previous stint representing Manafort`s former business associate Rick Gates. "I would be surprised if she really threw the book at him."
Manafort`s lawyers countered that their client should be given credit for admitting his guilt while also stressing that none of the Mueller`s charges related to the special counsel`s core mandate: collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Ellis, who has been critical of the special counsel, echoed that sentiment at the hearing on Thursday, later prompting a misleading claim by Trump that the judge had exonerated his campaign.
Jackson has displayed a more even-handed stance, defense lawyers said. She allowed a disagreement over Manafort`s bail to carry on for months and only threw him in jail last June when he was indicted for an attempt to tamper with witnesses in the case.
"This a tale of two judges. Judge Ellis showed little restraint in his comments as well as his action," said George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley. "Judge Jackson has shown considerable restraint."
While many people believe Ellis` sentence was "absurdly low," Turley said he did not think Jackson would seek to rectify the matter, saying it was not "the providence of a second federal judge to correct an error by the first judge."
Whatever Jackson`s ruling, the possibility of a presidential pardon - a prospect Trump has not ruled out -- will likely continue to hang over the Manafort situation, lawyers said.
A pardon might not, however, end Manafort`s legal troubles.
The Manhattan district attorney`s office is pursuing criminal charges against Manafort, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters last month. The charges, which originate from unpaid state taxes, could not be erased by a presidential pardon, which are only applicable to federal crimes.