The 43-month sentence handed down Wednesday by Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., finally brings Paul Manafort’s prison term more in line with what the public should expect for such a high-profile and unrepentant white-collar criminal, since it will begin after the 47-month sentence meted out to the former Trump campaign chairman in a separate trial last week.
It’s a long overdue punishment for a serial bank defrauder and money launderer who has consistently thumbed his nose at the federal law enforcement officers who uncovered his financial crimes and undisclosed lobbying work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine while digging into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.
Jackson made it perfectly clear at Manafort’s sentencing hearing Wednesday that she was disgusted with his deceptions and failure to accept genuine responsibility for his crimes, noting it is “hard to overstate the number of lies, the amount of fraud and the extraordinary amount of money involved.” She also suggested that he had undermined American values and interests by acting as an unregistered foreign agent.
Although Jackson did not directly criticize Judge T.S. Ellis for his light sentencing of Manafort in Alexandria, Virginia, last Thursday—and his puzzling remark that he believed Manafort had “lived an otherwise blameless life”—she specifically blasted Manafort for his questionable lobbying career, saying it “infects our policymaking.”
There can be no question that Manafort made a very lucrative career as a political consultant and operative for the most autocratic and brutal dictators throughout the globe, including the former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos, former Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and the former military ruler of Nigeria, Gen. Sani Abacha. Manafort’s clients have so consistently been linked with systematic human rights abuses that they were commonly referred to in Washington as “the torturers’ lobby.”
In addition to human rights abusers, Manafort was inevitably drawn like a moth to the flame by billionaire oligarchs such as Oleg Deripaska, who funded Manafort’s lavish personal lifestyle with tens of millions of dollars for his assistance in laundering hundreds of millions of dollars through offshore accounts in Cyprus, the Cayman Islands and other world money-laundering centers.
In fact, I headed up a team of lawyers who detailed some of the first publicly disclosed evidence of Manafort’s money laundering activities here in the U.S., which were originally filed as part of a civil RICO suit that I brought on behalf of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister who was jailed in Ukraine on trumped-up, politically motivated charges by the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich—with the invaluable assistance of Manafort and his sidekick, Rick Gates.
This evidence was then turned over to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which launched an investigation of Manafort and his Ukrainian and Russian racketeering partners. This investigation was eventually turned over to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Although it is painfully clear Manafort never came completely clean with the Special Counsel’s Office on his deep and longstanding ties with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs close to Putin, such as Oleg Deripaska and Dmytro Firtash, his close political and financial ties to the Kremlin’s inner circle directly coincides with the time frame when Manafort was catapulted by Trump to the top of his presidential campaign. It is likely, therefore, that Manafort was selected by Trump to head up his campaign at precisely the time when the Trump campaign was angling to get its hands on the cache of damaging Clinton emails WikiLeaks was sitting on and which the Russians were weaponizing in preparation for their release on U.S. social media platforms as part of their anti-Hillary disinformation campaign. No wonder Trump leaped at the opportunity to snatch Manafort up and quickly elevate him to the top of his 2016 campaign.
In addition to Manafort’s WikiLeaks connections, Manafort was also able to deliver to the Trump campaign a likely liaison to Russian intelligence, Konstantin Kilimnik, Manafort’s right-hand man in Moscow and in Kiev, where they both worked for a number of years under the auspices of the pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich. In fact, it now appears that Kilimnik may have been acting as Manafort’s “handler,” there to maximize the American’s potential as a Russian asset both in Ukraine and in the U.S. Until Yanukovich was ousted as president in February 2014 in a popular uprising and fled to Moscow, Manafort, Gates and Kilimnik helped Yanukovich chart a pro-Russian and anti-U.S. policy for Ukraine, for which Manafort was paid tens of millions of dollars, of which at least $17 million was paid “off the books,” as later disclosed by a “black ledger” found among the documents left behind when Yanokovich and his cronies fled Ukraine and sought sanctuary in Russia.
Trump also must have known when he hired him that Manafort had a very cozy relationship with Deripaska, a prominent Russian oligarch and member of Putin’s inner circle. Manafort had received millions from Deripaska over the years for trying to get U.S. sanctions lifted against Deripaska, and when Manafort rose to the head of the Trump campaign, one of Manafort’s first emails was to his Russian operative, Kilimnik, discussing how they could be “made whole” by monetizing Manafort’s new-won access to candidate Trump and offering “private briefings” to Deripaska on the Trump campaign’s efforts to implement a pro-Russian agenda, which they accomplished by watering down the Ukraine plank at the Republican National Convention—eliminating any promise to provide Ukraine with the defensive missile systems that beleaguered Ukraine needed to prevent further Russian encroachments and annexation of territory, as Russia had already done in Crimea.
Manafort also attended the now-infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting arranged between Don Jr. and Russian operatives who had promised to give the Trump campaign incriminating political “dirt” on Hillary Clinton that could then be used by Trump operatives to bludgeon the Democratic candidate for the remainder of the presidential election cycle. Indeed, as Trump’s primary liaison with his Russian allies, Manafort’s presence at such a high-level meeting with the Russians was a virtual requirement by both Team Trump and Team Russia since Manafort and Kilimnik were in charge of all liaison and coordination between these two working partners who were working towards the same ultimate goal, which was to manage through all means necessary to pull off the intelligence and political coup of the century, which was to have Trump—essentially a Russian asset and operative—capture and occupy the White House.
The 43-month sentence handed down by Judge Jackson was only the first shoe to drop on Manafort Wednesday. Moments after his sentencing in a Washington, D.C. courtroom, Manafort was indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on 16 counts of mortgage fraud and conspiracy. This court indictment should be a clear signal to Manafort that a Trump pardon cannot save him from eventually serving a long prison sentence, and that it is in his best interests to finally come clean and admit that his close coordination as Trump’s campaign manager with Kremlin-tied Russians had been carried out with Trump’s specific knowledge and approval.
Kenneth F. McCallion is a former Special Assistant Attorney General with the U.S. Dept. of Justice and human rights attorney. He is also the author of the forthcoming Treason and Betrayal: The Rise and Fall of Individual 1.