Trump ex-aide Manafort hit with 3-1/2 more years in prison, new charges

WASHINGTON,  (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to about 3-1/2 more years in prison and was hit with a fresh set of criminal charges in New York on Wednesday, drawing sympathy from a president who declined to say whether he would issue a pardon.

Manafort, 69, is due to spend a total of 7-1/2 years behind bars when the sentence by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson for crimes related to secret lobbying and witness tampering is combined with another of just under four years issued by a different judge in Virginia last Thursday. He has already served nine months of the sentence.

The veteran Republican operative has received the longest prison term yet in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

It amounts to a sharp fall for a man who earned millions of dollars as an international political consultant to pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine and dodged more than $6 million in taxes by hiding his income in offshore bank accounts.

That money could have been used by the government to help pay for veterans’ hospitals and other services, Jackson told Manafort, who was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair because of a condition called gout.

“Why? Not to support a family, but to sustain a lifestyle at the most opulent and extravagant level possible. More houses than one family can enjoy. More suits than one man can wear,” Jackson said, referring to Manafort’s previous luxuries.

Just minutes after Jackson read her sentence, the Manhattan district attorney unveiled a separate indictment charging Manafort with residential mortgage fraud and other New York state crimes, which unlike the federal charges cannot be erased by a presidential pardon. Manafort faces up to 25 years in prison on the three most serious charges.

“No one is beyond the law in New York,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Trump, who in November said he had not ruled out giving Manafort a pardon, on Wednesday said that “I have not even given it a thought.”

“It’s not something that’s right now in my mind. I do feel badly for Paul Manafort – that I can tell you,” the Republican president told reporters at the White House.

Trump has called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt,” and Manafort’s lawyers have argued that this case does nothing to prove that the campaign conspired with Russia. They have noted that the crimes sending him to prison stem from his lobbying work, not his time with Trump’s campaign.

“But for a short stint as a campaign manager in a presidential election, I don’t think we’d be here today,” Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing told Jackson.

Jackson suggested that the “‘no collusion’ mantra” was simply aimed at winning a pardon from Trump. Jackson added that Mueller’s ongoing investigation could yet reveal that Manafort worked with Russian interests during the campaign.

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