POLITICS
03/07/2019 19:03 EST | Updated 03/07/2019 20:10 EST

Paul Manafort Sentenced To Less Than 4 Years In Prison In Mueller Probe

Donald Trump's former campaign chairman still faces a separate sentencing in Washington, D.C.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. ― A federal judge here sentenced former Trump campaign chairman and longtime Republican operative Paul Manafort to less than four years in prison on Thursday in a case that grew out of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

The prison term, handed down by U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III in a packed federal courtroom in suburban Virginia, is the first of two sentences for Manafort, who turns 70 next month. Judge Ellis said he believed a sentence in the guideline range of 19 to 24 years would be “excessive,” and said Manafort “has lived an otherwise blameless life.” 

Before joining the Trump campaign in March 2016, Manafort made his millions working as a lobbyist for an elite group of clients, known colloquially as the “torturers’ lobby.” A 1992 report from the Center for Public Integrity accused Manafort and his team at Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm Black, Manafort & Stone of lobbying on behalf of dictators and guerrilla groups “identified as abusing human rights.”

Manafort has been in custody since his bail was revoked in June 2018 and still faces separate sentencing in yet another case in D.C. next week. 

“The real essence of his violation is that he stole from us, the people who pay their taxes,” Ellis said of Manafort.

Manafort, who was pushed into the courtroom in a wheelchair and remained seated for most of the hearing, made an emotional plea ahead of his sentence, thanking the judge for his fairness in the high-profile trial.

Dressed in a forest green jail uniform, Manafort said the past two years had been the “most difficult” of his life and that his image as depicted in the media “is not someone I would recognize.” He said that he felt punished by the situation already and that he’d had a lot of time “sitting in solitary confinement” to reflect on his actions.

Manafort added that he hoped to turn things around “through the power of prayer and God’s guiding hand” before asking the judge for compassion.

In the Virginia case, Manafort was convicted in August on eight counts involving filing false income taxes, failing to report foreign bank accounts and committing bank fraud. The case revolved around Manafort’s overseas work for oligarchs backing pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine and his efforts to keep that money from the U.S. government. 

Mueller’s office took no position on how much time Manafort should serve, but noted that the sentencing guidelines called for between 19 and 24 years and said the sentence should “take into account the gravity” of Manafort’s conduct and deter both him and “those who would commit a similar series of crimes.”

Manafort’s team accused Mueller of attempting to “vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon,” saying investigators’ actions were “beyond the pale” and “grossly” overstated the facts of the case.

In a response Tuesday, Mueller’s team said Manafort had not provided “complete and honest cooperation” and noted that he still owes the federal government more than $6 million. 

Manafort separately pleaded guilty in D.C. federal court in September to two counts involving a range of criminal conduct as part of a plea deal with Mueller’s team. But Mueller’s team said that Manafort lied to investigators after he reached that plea deal, and U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled last month that the special counsel was “no longer bound by its obligations under the plea agreement.”

President Donald Trump has repeatedly floated the idea of pardoning Manafort, and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said he discussed the matter with Trump ahead of Manafort’s August trial. Even after his trial and guilty plea, Manafort’s legal team had an unusual arrangement with Trump’s legal team that gave Trump’s attorneys insight into the questions Mueller’s team was pursuing. 

Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos has already served prison time. Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen has been sentenced to three years behind bars. Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign deputy Richard Gates are awaiting their sentences, while Trump associate Roger Stone is awaiting trial.

This story has been updated with additional details.

Antonia Blumberg contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.