Mueller recommends a very lengthy sentence for Paul Manafort

Special counsel Robert Mueller would like Paul Manafort to go to prison for a long, long time, according to a new sentencing memo he’s filed for Manafort’s case in Virginia.

The special counsel did not recommend a specific sentence for Manafort, but as a ballpark, he said he agreed with the probation department’s proposed guidelines for a sentence of at least 19 and a half years.

“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 wrote. “The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.”

Manafort was convicted of financial crimes after a trial in Virginia, and then struck a plea deal to avert a second trial in Washington, DC. So he will be sentenced by two different judges — T.S. Ellis III in Virginia, and Amy Berman Jackson in the District of Columbia.

This first sentencing memo was filed in Virginia, and focuses on Manafort’s financial crimes: filing false income tax returns, not declaring foreign assets, and bank fraud.

All of the charges against Manafort have so far related to his past work for the former government of Ukraine, his finances, or attempting to interfere with the investigation. He has not been charged with any criminal conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 elections.

But Mueller clearly believes Manafort has still been hiding a great deal. The special counsel accused him of lying about his sharing of Trump campaign poll data with a Russian associate, hiding his work to advance a “Ukraine peace plan,” and other topics.

Manafort’s complicated legal situation, explained

Manafort is a somewhat legendary Republican operative and lobbyist who spent a decade working for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before joining Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.

Because of his ties to pro-Russian interests, Manafort has long been a major figure of interest to investigators probing whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to interfere with the election — and he ended up being the first person indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. His legal road since then has been long and winding:

  • In October 2017, Mueller indicted Manafort and his longtime right-hand-man Rick Gates in Washington, DC, for conspiracy and lobbying-related crimes related to their past Ukraine work.
  • In February 2018, Mueller filed his second indictment of Manafort — this one in the Eastern District of Virginia, for tax, bank fraud, and other financial crimes. Shortly afterward, Gates “flipped,” striking a plea deal and cooperating with the government.
  • In June 2018, Mueller added more charges to Manafort in DC, alleging that he and his Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik tried to obstruct the investigation through witness tampering.
  • Manafort’s Virginia case ended up going to trial first, and on August 21, a jury found him guilty on eight counts of filing false tax returns, bank fraud, and failure to report foreign assets. (The jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict on 10 other counts due to one holdout, and those charges ended up being dismissed.)
  • After his conviction, Manafort agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors in DC, to avert that pending second trial. In the plea, Manafort admitted all the charges against him were true, agreed to forfeit millions of dollars in assets, and committed to cooperate with the government.
  • But last November, after Manafort had met 12 times with the government and appeared twice before Mueller’s grand jury, the government announced that they believed he’d breached his plea agreement by repeatedly lying to them on several different topics. And last Wednesday, DC Judge Amy Berman Jackson sided with the government on most of those accusations.

So now, Manafort is finally ready to be sentenced — twice. His DC sentencing is scheduled for March 13, and his Virginia sentencing does not yet have a scheduled date.

What Manafort’s actually being sentenced for

During Manafort’s Virginia trial, prosecutors laid out a two-part case.

First, they alleged that in the years before Manafort joined the Trump campaign, he’d gotten paid millions for his work for Ukrainian politicians. Then, he moved $30 million of that money from from foreign shell companies into the US — but he didn’t disclose this income on his tax forms, pay taxes on it, or fill out legally required disclosures of his foreign accounts. For all this, he was convicted of five tax charges and one failure to declare foreign accounts charge.

Second, Mueller’s team focused on what Manafort allegedly did once he lost his Ukrainian income after the country’s president was deposed. They claimed he tried to conjure up more cash via bank fraud — and was convicted of two counts for that.

Then, in the District of Columbia, Manafort eventually pleaded guilty to a broad “conspiracy against the United States” — in which he admitted unregistered lobbying and money laundering related to the Ukraine work — as well as “conspiracy to obstruct justice” (his attempts to get witnesses to stick to a false story about that work). He also admitted to the truth of all the Virginia charges filed against him.

Finally, both judges have previously indicated that when they sentence Manafort, they might take into account Mueller’s accusations that Manafort lied during cooperation. Judge Jackson ruled that Manafort did indeed deliberately lie about a $125,000 payment made on his behalf, about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik (his longtime Russian associate), and about another Justice Department investigation.

It’s been widely speculated that Manafort is hoping for a pardon from President Trump, and Mueller’s team even said in court that this could be a potential motivation for his false statements. Trump has conspicuously declined to rule out such a move.

For now, though, the former Trump campaign manager remains in jail, where he’s resided for eight months. His sentencing in Washington will take place on March 13, and his sentencing in Virginia currently has no scheduled date.

For more on the Mueller probe, follow Andrew Prokop on Twitter and check out Vox’s guide to the Trump-Russia investigation.