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The Mueller investigation has linked Paul Manafort to Russia, but what does that mean for Trump and the 2016 presidential campaign?
Hannah Gaber, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – It was supposed be the final act in Paul Manafort’s bruising, 17-month odyssey through the criminal justice system.

In the end, Wednesday’s sentencing hearing for the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign only added to the now-convicted felon’s legal misery.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson began her remarks to a packed courtroom by characterizing Manafort as a serial “liar” whose “ongoing contempt” for the law spanned more than a decade. It got worse from there. 

Jackson delivered a searing critique of the one-time counselor to Republican presidents, whose high-flying lobbying work paid for expensive clothes and homes, who now is convicted of conspiracy, fraud and plotting to obstruct justice. Then she tacked more than three years onto a four-year prison term he received last week in a related case in Virginia. 

And the bad news for Manafort did not stop at the threshold of Jackson’s second-floor courtroom.

Even as Manafort, who now uses a wheelchair because of declining health, was rolled into custody of U.S. Marshals, New York state authorities announced a 16-count indictment charginghim with mortgage fraud and conspiracy, arising from the same conduct prosecuted by federal authorities.

Wednesday’s developments offered a vivid illustration of the danger facing at least some of the high-profile subjects of Russia special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. As Mueller’s inquiry grinds toward its conclusion, federal and state prosecutors are in the midst of their own investigations –many sprawling far beyond the bounds of Russian intervention in the 2016 election. Manafort’s fate on Wednesday suggested the peril they face is real, and at least partly beyond Trump’s control. 

The strategically-timed action by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance would put Manafort beyond the reach of a potential pardon, should President Donald Trump choose to set aside the federal convictions against his former aide.

Trump said Wednesday that he felt “very badly” for Manafort, adding that he was not aware of the new charges filed in New York. Trump also did not immediately address a possible pardon.

But as recently as late last year, Trump said he “wouldn’t take (the possibility of a pardon) off the table.”

“Why would I take it off the table,” Trump told The New York Post in November.

Sentenced (again): Paul Manafort sentenced to a total of 7.5 years in prison: ‘It is hard to overstate the number of lies’

Charged (again): Ex-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, just sentenced to federal prison, faces new charges in N.Y. indictment

In Manafort’s case, the question of such presidential intervention has never been especially distant. Just last month, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told Jackson that Manafort lied to investigators despite an existing cooperation agreement as a possible way to “augment his chances for a pardon.”

Trump and those around him face a multiplying set of investigations. 

In addition to the New York state charges lodged against Manafort, federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating fundraising irregularities involving the Trump Inaugural Committee and hush-money payments made by the president, Donald Trump Jr., and Trump Organization financial chief Allen Weisselberg to women who have claimed affairs with the president.

The Trump Foundation, a charity established by Trump long before he took office, also has been the subject of a separate investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office. More recently, according to the New York Times, the New York attorney general issued subpoenas to two banks as part of a separate examination of the Trump Organization, the president’s sprawling real estate enterprise.

And beyond the myriad criminal inquiries, several congressional investigations have gathered fresh momentum following the recent testimony of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who asserted that the president had indirectly advised him to lie to Congress about the Trump Organization’s pursuit of a lucrative real estate development in Moscow. The lawyer also publicly accused his former boss of inflating the value of his assets to get bank loans and insurance coverage. 

The timing of the state charges against Manafort, however, were particularly striking, analysts said.

Patrick Cotter, a white-collar defense attorney and a former federal prosecutor in New York, characterized the action as “extraordinary.”

“It’s uncommon in the sense that, usually, if the feds take (a case), the state usually leaves it alone,” Cotter said. “If the state is interested in addressing state crimes, more often than not, they sort of work with the feds and come up with a global resolution that addresses both state and federal issues.”

In Manafort’s case, the action appeared to be designed as a back-stop to a possible presidential pardon.

Cotter said he doesn’t think the new charges would place Manafort in an endless legal jeopardy, suggesting that Manafort’s attorneys would likely try to reach a plea deal with the New York prosecutors that would result in little or no additional time in prison.

“You can only punish a guy so many times,” he said.

Jason Maloni, a Manafort spokesman, declined to comment on the New York state action.

Manafort’s attorneys also did not address the new charges.

Instead, they blasted Judge Jackson, asserting that the additional 3.5-year prison sentence was excessive, while describing her public rebuke of Manafort’s conduct as unnecessary.

“The judge displayed a level of callousness and hostility that I have not seen before,” attorney Kevin Downing said outside the courthouse where he was partially shouted down by protesters.

Indeed, Jackson’s verbal scolding of Manafort was often-merciless and struck a decidedly different tone than last week’s sentencing in Virginia, where U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, said the former political operative had led “an otherwise blameless life” before pronouncing a sentence of 47 months for convictions on eight counts of tax and bank fraud.

The prison term represented a dramatic departure from federal guidelines that recommended a sentence of between 19.5 and 24.5 years. Few federal defendants get prison sentences so far below the guidelines unless prosecutors ask for it. 

Jackson, by contrast, delivered a withering admonishment, asserting that Manafort spent much of his career “gaming the system,” lying to government officials, and cheating taxpayers of more than $6 million in unpaid taxes.

“It is hard to overestimate the number of lies, the amount of fraud and the extraordinary amount of money involved,” Jackson said before pronouncing sentence.

All of it, the judge said, was aimed at propping up an “opulent” lifestyle that included “more homes than one family can occupy and more suits than one man can wear.”

During Manafort’s federal trial in Virginia, prosecutors offered the testimony from a parade of witnesses who detailed how the veteran political consultant funneled money from dozens of foreign bank accounts to purchase homes, cars and  racks of designer clothes from select haberdashers in Manhattan. They showed jurors photos of the clothes FBI agents found in his closet.

Like he did at his sentencing last week, Manafort addressed the court from his wheelchair Wednesday, expressing remorse for his actions.

“The person who I have been described as in public is not the someone who I recognize,” Manafort said in a raspy voice as a packed courtroom fell silent.

Among those watching shoulder-to-shoulder in the gallery were nearly all of the Mueller team members – FBI agents, prosecutors and paralegals – absent Mueller himself.

“While I know that I am not that person, I feel shame and embarrassment for the suffering that i have caused my family and friends and all who have been affected by my behavior.

“Let me be very clear,” he said, “I accept responsibility for the acts that have caused me to be here today.”

In one last appeal, Manafort referred to his wife, Kathleen, seated just a few yards behind the defense table, asking that the judge sentence him to no more additional prison time than the 47 months leveled last week in Virginia.

“Your honor, I will be 70 years old in a few weeks,” Manafort said, adding that he remained his wife’s primary caretaker. “Please, let me and my wife be together.”

Jackson appeared unmoved by the emotional display.

“This defendant knew better, and he knew exactly what he was doing,” the judge said, adding that she did not believe Manafort’s apology was genuine.

“Saying I’m sorry I got caught is not an inspiring plea for leniency,” Jackson said.

Then, later Wednesday, she inflicted one more indignity, signing an order turning over several of his homes and bank accounts to federal authorities. Among them, an estate in the Hamptons and his condo in Trump’s eponymous New York tower. 

Contributing: John Fritze and Bart Jansen