WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to a total of seven and a half years in prison on federal charges Wednesday, then was hit almost immediately with fresh state charges in New York that could put him outside the president’s power to pardon.
In Washington, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson brushed aside Manafort’s pleas for leniency and rebuked him for misleading the U.S. government about his lucrative foreign lobbying work and for encouraging witnesses to lie on his behalf.
“It is hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud and the extraordinary amount of money involved” in the crimes, Jackson told Manafort, 69, who sat stone-faced in a wheelchair he has used because of gout. She added three-and-a-half years on top of the nearly four-year sentence Manafort received last week in a separate case in Virginia, though he’ll get credit for nine months already served.
The sentencing hearing was a milestone in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election campaign. Manafort was among the first people charged in the investigation, and though the allegations did not relate to his work for candidate Donald Trump, his foreign entanglements and business relationship with an associate the U.S. says has ties to Russian intelligence have made him a pivotal figure in the probe.
Prosecutors are updating judges this week on the cooperation provided by other key defendants in the case . Mueller is expected to soon conclude his investigation in a confidential report to the Justice Department.
Minutes after Manafort’s federal sentence was imposed, New York prosecutors unsealed a 16-count indictment accusing him of giving false information on mortgage loan applications. The new case appeared designed at least in part to protect against the possibility that Trump could pardon Manafort, who led the celebrity businessman’s 2016 White House bid for months. The president can pardon federal crimes but not state offenses.
New York’s attorney general’s office had looked into whether it could bring state-level crimes against Manafort but faced a possible roadblock because of the state’s double jeopardy law . That statute goes beyond most other states by preventing state-level charges that mirror federal counts that have been resolved — and also prevents prosecutors from pursuing state-level charges when a person has been pardoned for the same federal crimes.
Still, Manhattan prosecutors, who brought the new indictment, contend their case is safe because mortgage fraud and falsifying business records are state but not federal crimes.
At the White House, Trump said he felt “very badly” for Manafort but hadn’t given any thought to a pardon. “No collusion,” the president added.
On Wednesday, Judge Jackson made clear the case against Manafort had nothing to do with Russian election interference and she scolded Manafort’s lawyers for asserting that their client was charged only because prosecutors couldn’t get him on crimes related to potential collusion with the Trump campaign.
“The no-collusion mantra is simply a non sequitur,” she said, suggesting that those arguments were meant for an audience outside the courtroom — presumably the president.
The judge said conspiracy charges concerning Manafort’s unregistered foreign lobbying work and witness tampering were “not just some failure to comply with some pesky regulations” as his attorneys argued.
Instead, she said they were evidence that Manafort had spent a considerable portion of his career “gaming the system.” He undermined the American political process by concealing from the public and Congress that he was working on behalf of Ukraine— and earning millions of dollars that he never reported to the IRS, she said.
“Court is one of those places where facts still matter,” she said.
Reading from a three-page statement, Manafort asked for mercy and said the criminal charges against him had “taken everything from me already.” He pleaded with the judge not to impose any additional time beyond the sentence he had received last week in a separate case in Virginia.
“I am sorry for what I have done and all the activities that have gotten us here today,” he said in a steady voice. “While I cannot undo the past, I will ensure that the future will be very different.”
Manafort said he was the primary caregiver for his wife and wanted the chance for them to resume their life together.
“She needs me and I need her. I ask you to think of this and our need for each other as you deliberate,” he said. “This case has taken everything from me already — my properties, my cash, my life insurance, my trust accounts for my children and my grandchildren, and more.”
His plea for leniency followed prosecutor Andrew Weissmann’s scathing characterization of crimes that the government said spanned more than a decade and continued even while Manafort was awaiting trial. The prosecutor said Manafort took steps to conceal his foreign lobbying work, laundered millions of dollars to fund a lavish lifestyle and then, while under house arrest, coached other witnesses to lie on his behalf.
“He engaged in crime again and again. He has not learned a harsh lesson. He has served to undermine, not promote American ideals of honesty … and playing by the rules,” Weissmann said.
Defense lawyer Kevin Downing suggested Manafort was being unduly punished because of a “media frenzy” generated by the appointment of a special counsel.
After the hearing, Downing criticized Jackson’s sentencing as he competed with shouting protesters.
“I think the judge showed that she is incredibly hostile toward Mr. Manafort and exhibited a level of callousness that I’ve not seen in a white-collar case in over 15 years of prosecutions,” Downing said.
Read the newly unsealed indictment against Paul Manafort in the State of New York below:
Sweden Won’t Seek Julian Assange’s Detention, Court Rules
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A Swedish court has ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is now jailed in Britain and suspected of rape in Sweden, shouldn’t be detained in absentia.
Monday’s ruling by the Uppsala District Court doesn’t mean a preliminary investigation in Sweden should be abandoned, only that Assange wouldn’t be extradited and could be questioned in Britain.
Last month, the 47-year-old Assange was evicted from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he had been holed up with political asylum since 2012. He was then immediately arrested by British police on April 11 and is currently serving a 50-week sentence in Britain for jumping bail in 2012.
He is also fighting extradition to the U.S., which accuses him of publishing secret documents.
Don McGahn Is A No-Show At House Judiciary Committee Hearing
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler says the House will hold President Donald Trump accountable “one way or the other” after he directed former White House counsel Donald McGahn to defy the panel’s subpoena.
The Judiciary panel is holding a brief hearing Tuesday in McGahn’s absence with an empty chair where he was supposed to sit. Nadler said that if McGahn doesn’t “immediately correct his mistake” in not showing, the committee will have to enforce the subpoena.
Nadler has said the committee is ready to hold McGahn in contempt. The committee will hear McGahn’s testimony, “even if we have to go to court,” Nadler said.
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the committee’s top Republican, said it’s time to move on. He said Nadler wants “the fight and the drama.”
President Donald Trump directed McGahn to ignore the committee’s subpoena to testify on Tuesday. A lawyer for McGahn said he would follow the president’s directive.
McGahn was a key witness in the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Michael Cohen Told House Panel That Trump’s Lawyers Instructed Him To Falsely Claim End of Moscow Negotiations
Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former longtime personal attorney, told a House panel during closed-door hearings earlier this year that he had been instructed by Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow to falsely claim in a 2017 statement to Congress that negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended in January 2016, according to people familiar with his testimony.
In fact, Cohen later admitted that discussions on the Moscow tower continued into June of the presidential election year, after it was clear Trump would be the GOP nominee. Cohen is serving three years in prison for lying to Congress, financial crimes and campaign finance violations.
House Democrats are now scrutinizing whether Sekulow or other Trump attorneys played a role in shaping Cohen’s 2017 testimony to Congress. Cohen has said he made the false statement to help hide the fact that Trump had potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in a possible Russian project while he was running for president.
“We’re trying to find out whether anyone participated in the false testimony that Cohen gave to this committee,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said in an interview. He did not comment on who, if anyone, might have instructed Cohen to lie.
Jane Serene Raskin and Patrick Strawbridge, attorneys for Sekulow, said in a statement that “Cohen’s alleged statements are more of the same from him and confirm the observations of prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that Cohen’s ‘instinct to blame others is strong.’”
“That this or any Committee would rely on the word of Michael Cohen for any purpose — much less to try and pierce the attorney-client privilege and discover confidential communications of four respected lawyers — defies logic, well-established law and common sense,” they added.
Cohen’s claims about Sekulow are laid out in transcripts of his February and March appearances before the House intelligence panel that could be released as soon as Monday afternoon.
Cohen’s closed-door testimony before the committee led congressional Democrats this month to press Sekulow and other Trump family lawyers who were involved in a joint defense agreement for more information about work they did preparing Cohen’s 2017 statement. Schiff has askedfour attorneys to turn over documents and schedule interviews with the panel, a request they have so far rebuffed as an threat to the long-standing protection provided to communications between lawyers and their clients.
In his public testimony before the House Oversight Committee in January, Cohen said that “Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it.”
He accused Sekulow of making changes to the 2017 statement.
“There were changes made, additions, Jay Sekulow, for one,” Cohen told the panel.
Sekulow denied the claim by Cohen at the time, calling such assertions “completely false.”
In subsequent closed-door appearances before the House Intelligence Committee in February and March, Cohen was more specific, saying Sekulow told him it would be important to use Jan. 31, 2016, as the date when discussions about the Moscow project ended, according to the people familiar with his testimony, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the panel’s ongoing investigation.
Sekulow told Cohen the date was significant because it came before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, the opening contest of the White House race, Cohen said to the committee.
When asked about the account of Cohen’s closed-door testimony, Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen, said, “I cannot disagree with that.”
It is unclear how much detailed knowledge Sekulow had about the timeline of Trump’s most recent effort to build a branded tower in Moscow, which Cohen began in September 2015 and ended in June 2016, according to court documents. Sekulow joined Trump’s legal team after he was elected.
Despite Cohen’s history of lying to Congress, senior Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees indicated that they are taking his allegations seriously.
“If it is accurate that one of the President’s personal attorneys encouraged him or edited his testimony to give Congress a false date, it’s further evidence that the President had some reason for not wanting the American people, or the Senate Intelligence Committee, to know the truth about his dealings with Russia as a candidate,” Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
Cohen’s claims were reviewed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who sought — but did not succeed — in questioning one of Trump’s personal attorneys about interactions he had with Cohen about the 2017 testimony.
According to Mueller’s report, Cohen spoke to a counsel for Trump frequently in the days before he submitted his statement to Congress on Aug. 28, 2017. The Trump lawyer was not named in the report.
Cohen told investigators that he recalled telling the president’s lawyer that the statement did not reflect the extent of communications with Russia and Trump about the Moscow project.
The Trump attorney told Cohen that it was not necessary to include other details in the statement, which he advised should be kept “tight.” Cohen told investigators he also recalled that the lawyer told him “his client” appreciated Cohen and he should stay on message and not contradict the president, according to the report.
Mueller’s team sought to speak to the Trump lawyer about the conversations with Cohen, “but counsel declined, citing potential privilege concerns,” according to the report.
Cohen’s claims led Schiff to demand information from Sekulow and three other lawyers who played a role reviewing Cohen’s 2017 testimony: Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump; Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Donald Trump Jr.; and Alan Garten, an attorney for the Trump Organization.
The four lawyers have said they cannot answer Schiff’s requests because of attorney-client privilege, which bars them from discussing confidential conversations.
Schiff has promised to push ahead, threatening to issue a subpoena for the lawyers’ cooperation if necessary, noting that they had an incentive to encourage Cohen’s initial testimony.
“Cohen himself stood little to gain by lying to our committee,” Schiff told The Washington Post. “Donald Trump and others around him stood far more to gain from that being concealed from our investigation. So it obviously begs the question of whether this was something he did on his own . . . or were there others who participated in the falsehood before our committee.”
Schiff also warned that the privilege claim may not allow the attorneys to avoid testifying before his committee.
“The privilege doesn’t apply if it’s being used to conceal a crime or a fraud,” he said. “And if the attorneys were conferring amongst themselves and Mr. Cohen about a false statement they were going to make to our committee, there’s no privilege that protects that kind of conduct.”
In a letter to Schiff Friday, attorneys for the four Trump lawyers expressed dismay at Schiff’s effort to compel their testimony.
“We find the Committee’s outright, blanket refusal to recognize the attorney-client privilege — a bedrock principle of common law dating back centuries — to be stunning, unwise, and unwarranted,” they wrote.
They called the inquiry “an attempt to pursue a law-enforcement investigation which is outside the constitutional authority of the legislative branch.”
Schiff has also expressed interest in hearing from Felix Sater, a Trump business partner who was working the Russian side of the Trump Tower Moscow proposal in 2016.
Lawyers for Cohen said it appears that Sater and his attorney reviewed Cohen’s testimony before it was submitted to Congress in 2017, according to documents they reviewed. Sater’s involvement negates any privilege claim, Cohen’s attorneys said.
“Because it appears that the draft statement was shared with two non-privileged individuals — Mr. Sater and his lawyer — the joint defense privilege was in our professional opinion waived,” said Davis, one of two criminal defense attorneys representing Cohen.
Sater and Cohen had discussions about the Moscow project into June 2016, but Sater did not correct Cohen’s original assertion to Congress that the project ended that January.
Sater declined to comment on questions about Cohen’s testimony but he said he stands ready to cooperate with Schiff’s inquiries.
“I have always cooperated with the U.S. government and look forward to continued cooperation,” Sater said. “I will make myself available to Congressman Schiff’s committee or any other committee as they deem necessary.”
(Reporting by The Washington Post)
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