WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort on Friday continued to attack special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing Mueller’s office of not only vilifying him, but also of “spreading misinformation.”
Manafort and his lawyers have used pre-sentencing memos not only to lobby for a lower prison sentence, but also to criticize the special counsel’s office — something they’ve had limited opportunities to do, given a gag order imposed early on. In a sentencing memo filed Friday in Manafort’s case in federal court in Virginia, his lawyers wrote that Mueller had unfairly impugned Manafort’s character.
“The Special Counsel’s attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this Court,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote. “The Special Counsel’s conduct comes as no surprise, and falls within the government’s pattern of spreading misinformation about Mr. Manafort to impugn his character in a manner that this country has not experienced in decades.”
Manafort’s lawyers repeated their claim that Mueller pursued Manafort for crimes largely unrelated to his work on President Donald Trump’s campaign in order to pressure Manafort to flip on the president. Political and legal pundits have speculated that Manafort is angling for a pardon; Trump in November told the New York Post that a pardon for Manafort was not “off the table.”
“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’ in an effort to compel Mr. Manafort to cooperate and provide incriminating information about others,” his lawyers wrote, quoting language Manafort’s judge in Virginia, US District Judge T.S. Ellis III, had previously used to question the special counsel’s office’s motivations.
Manafort is due for sentencing in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on March 7. Earlier this month, Mueller’s office said in a sentencing memo that it believed Manafort should face a sentencing range of between 19.5 to 24 years in prison. It also wrote that Manafort’s penalty could include a fine of up to $24 million.
Manafort’s lawyers didn’t ask for a specific sentence, but argued in Friday’s filing that the range proposed by Mueller’s office — which the US Probation Office had calculated — was “clearly disproportionate” to the crimes he was convicted of at trial. They asked for a sentence “substantially below” the range “in light of the fact that the defendant is a first-time offender and given the nature of the offenses for which Mr. Manafort was convicted.”
They also argued against “enhancements” that boosted the range proposed by the government — disputing, for instance, that the bank fraud Manafort was found guilty of and the fact that he used offshore accounts meant his crimes were “sophisticated,” and that he was an “organizer or leader” of criminal activity. They said Manafort should get credit for accepting responsibility because he pleaded guilty to crimes in his case in federal court in Washington, DC, that overlapped with his Virginia case, even though he opted to go to trial in Virginia.
Special counsel prosecutors didn’t advocate for a specific sentence, but argued whatever Ellis imposed, it “should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.”
“In the end, 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 office wrote.
Parts of Manafort’s latest sentencing memo echoed the memo he filed Monday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. His lawyers again presented him as a devoted husband, father, and friend, and a successful political consultant who had advised multiple presidential campaigns. They also noted the physical and emotional toll that months in pretrial detention had taken on Manafort, and again pointed out that some courts had given defendants with serious medical conditions no prison time.
“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 reoffending and specific deterrence for a soon-to-be septuagenarian is not necessary under these circumstances,” his lawyers wrote.
A federal jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty of eight counts following a trial last summer — five counts of filing false income tax returns, one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the remaining 10 charges, and the judge declared a mistrial on those counts. Although prosecutors failed to win on all counts, the jury did find Manafort guilty in all three categories of crimes he was charged with.
Manafort was set to go to trial on a separate set of charges in DC soon after the Virginia trial ended, but he took a deal instead. In September, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States through a range of financial crimes, and conspiring to tamper with witnesses. He is due for sentencing in DC the week after he’s sentenced in Virginia, March 13. In that case, neither side has advocated for a specific sentence — prosecutors have argued for a harsh penalty, while Manafort asked for leniency. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Both of Manafort’s judges can consider the nearly nine months Manafort has already spent in jail. Jackson ordered him held pending trial in June 2018 after prosecutors raised new allegations that Manafort tried to interfere with potential witnesses.
Since Ellis is sentencing Manafort first, he won’t have the benefit of knowing how Jackson handled things, but he can consider her finding earlier this month that prosecutors proved Manafort lied to investigators and the grand jury after signing his plea deal.
Several hours before filing their sentencing memo Friday, Manafort’s lawyers filed a report alerting Ellis about new developments related to the plea deal breach issue in DC. This week, prosecutors filed a heavily redacted document indicating they’d gotten new information from Rick Gates — Manafort’s former right-hand man and a former senior official on Trump’s campaign — that conflicted with information they gave Jackson.
The information Gates came forward with related to false information prosecutors said Manafort provided about the nature of his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian Ukrainian and longtime associate of Manafort whom prosecutors say had ties to Russian intelligence (Kilimnik has denied that). Kilimnik was charged as a codefendant with Manafort in his DC case, but has never appeared in court.
The substance of whatever Gates told prosecutors is redacted, but Jackson on Thursday ordered a correction to the record about “an inaccurate description of an individual or individuals.” On Friday, she ruled that the new information did not change her conclusion that Manafort had lied about his contacts with Kilimnik. Manafort’s lawyers wrote to Ellis that they saw this new information as helpful to Manafort in the assessment of whether he lied, and asked the judge to take note.