Followers of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian attacks on U.S. elections and possible links to the Trump campaign canceled plans and stayed connected to the internet on Friday night anxiously awaiting the filing of a key legal document in the case.
Mueller had a midnight deadline on Saturday to file a sentencing memo for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in one of his two federal criminal cases. That memo was filed by the deadline, along with a redacted version released to the public on Saturday. Manafort pleaded guilty last September in Washington, DC, to two counts of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 13.
Anyone hoping for a bombshell in the 25-page memo (which has about 800 pages of appendixes) linking Trump to Russia probably will be disappointed. Most of the memo lays out Manafort’s many crimes over the past decade, which continued even after he had agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s prosecutors. Those violations resulted in a cooperation agreement between Manafort and prosecutors being revoked.
The president’s former campaign chair also was convicted of tax and bank fraud in a separate case in Virginia. He is scheduled to be sentenced in that case on March 8.
Mueller’s memorandum states that:
…Manafort presents many aggravating sentencing factors and no warranted mitigating factors. Manafort committed an array of felonies for over a decade, up through the fall of 2018. Manafort chose repeatedly and knowingly to violate the law—whether the laws proscribed garden-variety crimes such as tax fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and bank fraud, or more esoteric laws that he nevertheless was intimately familiar with, such as the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). His criminal actions were bold, some of which were committed while under a spotlight due to his work as the campaign chairman and, later, while he was on bail from this Court.
The memo notes that during the investigation, Manafort, 69, lied repeatedly to the special counsel’s office, the FBI, and a grand jury. It does not, however, recommend a specific sentence.
“Consistent with the practice the Special Counsel’s Office has followed, the government does not take a position with respect to a particular sentence to be imposed. Instead, the government sets forth its assessment of the nature of the offenses and offender and the applicable advisory sentencing guidelines and sentencing factors,” the special counsel’s office wrote.
As NBC News national security correspondent Ken Dilanian pointed out, the words “Russia” or “Russians” appear nowhere in the memo. This could either mean Mueller lacks the evidence to show Manafort conspired with Russia on behalf of the Trump campaign, or that the special counsel is holding his cards close to the chest pending some other type of legal action.
Discussions have continued for days in the national news media about whether Mueller is close to wrapping up his two-year investigation. Counter to previous speculation, Mueller is not expected to present his final report to the Justice Department this week. There are signs, however, that the special counsel’s investigation is close to winding down.
As for Manafort, Bloomberg reported on Friday that prosecutors in New York have sought to “pardon-proof” Manafort’s prosecution by preparing state charges for tax evasion and other financial crimes. That would ensure Manafort would still be prosecuted if President Donald Trump grants him a pardon on his federal convictions. The president can’t pardon state crimes.
In the memo, Mueller notes, “Nothing about Manafort’s upbringing, schooling, legal education, or family and financial circumstances mitigates his criminality.”
Manafort is currently being held in a jail in Alexandria, VA.