Paul Manafort. (Photographer: Victor Blue/Bloomberg)

Manafort Will Be Sentenced Today as Russia Mysteries Linger

(Bloomberg) -- Paul Manafort will be sentenced for financial crimes on Thursday, even as key details about his place in the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election will remain a mystery.

Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, will appear in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, after a prosecution that left his reputation in tatters, his fortune depleted and his health deteriorating.

He’s paying the price for U.S. crimes he committed while advising pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine and after that, when his cash dried up. Manafort, 69, could receive as much as 24 years in prison for eight felonies, including hiding $55 million abroad, cheating the U.S. out of more than $6 million in taxes and defrauding banks that lent him money.

Manafort Will Be Sentenced Today as Russia Mysteries Linger

What won’t emerge in the sentencing hearing are Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusions about whether Manafort conspired with Russians who interfered in the 2016 election. Still, prosecutors sprinkled tantalizing clues in court filings about Manafort’s interactions with an associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, linked by Mueller to a Russian intelligence service.

Manafort’s sentencing judge, T.S. Ellis III, ruled that any talk of Russian collusion was off limits during the trial. Mueller is likely to save those conclusions for his final report on the Russia investigation.

Manafort’s ties to Kilimnik unspooled later in a related case against him in Washington, where Manafort pleaded guilty on Sept. 14 to two conspiracy charges and promised to cooperate with prosecutors. He admitted running a secret, decade-long lobbying campaign to benefit pro-Kremlin politicians in Ukraine, and conspiring with Kilimnik to tamper with witnesses. He’ll be sentenced there on March 13.

Prosecutors said Manafort repeatedly lied to them in debriefings about several matters, including his interactions with Kilimnik, a translator. At one court hearing, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said a meeting between the two men at a cigar bar in Manhattan on Aug. 2, 2016, goes “very much to the heart” of Mueller’s investigation, though he provided no details.

Poorly redacted court filings show that Manafort and Kilimnik discussed polling data related to Trump’s campaign, raising the possibility that they may have served as a conduit between Trump and the Kremlin. They also discussed a peace plan to resolve cross-border hostilities after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Ever since, Russia has sought to ease the burden of U.S. sanctions imposed on Moscow for that invasion.

The men also met in Washington during the Trump inauguration and later in Madrid, according to the filings.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Manafort deliberately lied about his contacts with Kilimnik, calling it an “attempt to shield his Russian conspirator from liability” and saying it raised “legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie.”

Manafort and Kilimnik had worked for several years for the Russia-aligned Party of Regions and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. They later began work for a party known as the Opposition Bloc, and the two men discussed polling data about a Ukrainian candidate as late as 2018 -- after the Manafort indictment.

To rebut prosecutors, Manafort’s lawyers have said that prosecutors have no evidence of Russian collusion by their client and that his interactions with Kilimnik were innocent. Redacted transcripts of two court hearings show Manafort’s lawyers pushed the judge to unseal heavily blacked-out passages.

Manafort’s lawyers said both Manafort and Kilimnik spoke often to U.S. State Department officials in Kiev, demonstrating they had nothing to hide from American officials. Those types of interactions were routine for American officials trying to keep abreast of local developments, according to Michael Carpenter, a former National Security Council and State Department official focused on Russia. State Department officials might have wanted to meet Kilimnik to gain his insights into the Yanukovych regime, Carpenter said.

“Someone who is working in the country who has legitimate views on what’s happening, they’ll meet with them to glean their views,” Carpenter said in an interview. “When I was in the State Department, I met with all kinds of people, so you can triangulate and figure out what’s happening.”

At a Feb. 13 hearing in Washington, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing said it was important that the allegation of Kilimnik’s “known ties to Russian intelligence be countered, and be countered in a balanced manner.”

The sentencing hearing on Thursday will focus on the financial crimes Manafort committed when he hid millions in offshore accounts in Cyprus and elsewhere while failing to report income to the Internal Revenue Service. Prosecutors said he was cash-poor when he lied to banks to obtain loans, even as he worked at no salary for Trump’s campaign.

Manafort, they argued in court papers on Tuesday, “blames everyone from the special counsel’s office to his Ukrainian clients for his own criminal choices.” They say that he has shown no remorse and that he still owes $6 million in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

For their part, Manafort’s lawyers seek mercy for a man once considered one of America’s premier political consultants, advising four U.S. presidents and working around the world.

“The cases that the special counsel have brought against Mr. Manafort have devastated him personally, professionally and financially,” they wrote in a March 1 filing. “The charges and associated publicity have brought intense, negative media coverage and scrutiny, have destroyed his career and have resulted in financial hardship for Mr. Manafort and his family.”

Manafort has been in a northern Virginia jail since June 15, when the Washington judge ordered him locked up over accusations that he tampered with a witness. He has severe gout, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, psoriasis, arthritis and a potential thyroid problem, his lawyers say. He also suffers from severe anxiety, panic attacks and a constant feeling of claustrophobia, they say.

“Mr. Manafort’s physical, mental, and emotional health, together with his age and his almost nine-month stay in solitary confinement, weigh in favor of a sentence in this case that does not include a lengthy period of incarceration,” they argued.

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