Facing prison, Manafort asks for leniency in Mueller case

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort (R) leaves the Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse with his wife Kathleen Manafort (L) after an arraignment hearing as a protester holds up a sign March 8, 2018 in Alexandria, Virginia. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Paul Manafort, the longtime political consultant who once led Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, asked a federal judge for leniency Monday as he faces the potential of spending the rest of his life in prison in criminal cases stemming from the Russia investigation.

In a new court filing, Manafort’s attorneys painted the 69-year-old as a victim of circumstance, prosecuted by special counsel Robert Mueller only because the government couldn’t make the case that he colluded with the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. They also dismissed the prosecutors’ characterization of Manafort as a hardened criminal, saying he was merely a wealthy consultant who committed “garden variety” crimes by illegally lobbying for Ukrainian interests and hiding millions from the IRS.

The filing comes as the defense attorneys have sought to contain the fallout from the unraveling of Manafort’s plea deal this month.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who will decide Manafort’s sentence, ruled that Manafort had violated his plea deal by lying to federal agents about several subjects, including about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who the U.S. says has ties to Russian intelligence. Manafort hasn’t been accused of any crimes related to Russian election interference, but court papers have revealed that Manafort gave Kilimnik polling data related to the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. A Mueller prosecutor also said that an August 2016 meeting between the two men goes to the “heart” of the Russia probe. The meeting involved a discussion of a Ukrainian peace plan, but many other details about it have been redacted in court papers.

Manafort faces up to five years in prison on each of two felony charges, but his attorneys asked Jackson to choose a sentence “significantly below the statutory maximum.”

Manafort’s lawyers said he had been “publicly vilified” by a special counsel whose appointment escalated an obscure, and rarely punished, foreign lobbying law into a serious crime.

“Mr. Manafort has been punished substantially, including the forfeiture of most of his assets,” the lawyers said. “In light of his age and health concerns, a significant additional period of incarceration will likely amount to a life sentence for a first time offender.”

In addition to the case in Washington, Manafort faces the possibility of more than 19 years in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case in federal court in Virginia. A jury in that case convicted him of eight felony counts of tax and bank fraud.

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Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

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