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Will a second judge be harsher to Manafort?

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CNN's Erin Burnett argued with Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) about whether Paul Manafort's sentence said anything about Russian collusion.

Posted: Mar. 10, 2019 8:23 PM


On Wednesday, Paul Manafort is up for sentencing round two.

Donald Trump's former campaign chairman received 47 months in prison for tax and financial fraud charges -- well below the 19 to 25 years recommended by federal guidelines -- from Judge T.S. Ellis in northern Virginia, a sentence liberals decried.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson can give Manafort a maximum of 10 years.

Wednesday's hearing is poised to rehash the long and difficult road Manafort has had in her Washington, DC, courtroom and with prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller's office.

Jackson already revoked Manafort's bail and had him incarcerated last summer.

Here's what to expect:

What crimes are Manafort being sentenced for?

The two charges Manafort will be sentenced for in DC are conspiracy against the US and conspiracy to obstruct justice for attempting to tamper with witnesses. He pleaded guilty to both in September.

As part of his plea, the prosecutors also had Manafort admit in Jackson's court that he committed several other uncharged crimes that carry steep penalties. Those include conspiracy money laundering, tax fraud and illegal foreign lobbying as well as the multiple bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracies and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts to the US government which Ellis addressed last week.

Sentencing is complicated and unpredictable, and Jackson's session with Manafort may be no different.

This judge also has some complex questions to take into consideration at his sentencing, more than just the numbers on the books. Manafort's broken plea deal, for instance, is one of the things she'll consider atop his actual charges.

How harsh will Jackson be?

To put it lightly, Manafort has far more reason to fear Jackson's judgment than Ellis, who last week said Manafort has "lived an otherwise blameless life."

In the Virginia case, it was a straightforward proceeding leading up to trial and through the trial. Manafort never crossed Ellis's line in that court and faced a relatively humdrum set of financial charges. Ellis also spoke to prosecutors more harshly than Manafort, and even publicly described his displeasure with the special counsel office's pursuits.

In Jackson's court, the climate is planets away.

For one, she reprimanded Manafort's attorney Kevin Downing repeatedly for acting or speaking out of turn.

At a recent sealed hearing, Downing's and Jackson's raised voices could be heard outside the courtroom. Jackson even warned Downing, "Don't. Don't," when he tried to raise news coverage of Manafort's Virginia trial. She's also warned him of being smug and overbearing and, most recently, called defense tactics "disingenuous."

And that's just Manafort's lawyer.

Manafort broke the bail terms Jackson set, flouted the gag order she set, tampered with witnesses while out on bail and then broke the plea agreement she had accepted by lying. The case has dragged on for almost 17 months, with more than 500 filings and numerous denials of Manafort's defense.

Jackson sent Manafort to jail in June.

His defense team hopes her sentence will be lenient enough that Manafort can return to a normal life after serving his time.

After prosecutors accused Manafort of lying during cooperation, Manafort's attorneys tried to avoid a drawn-out court fight reviewing the lies. Jackson dragged them through hours of discussion, before firmly deciding Manafort intentionally lied, including under oath, and was hurting the special counsel's investigation.

"I am concerned that you seem inclined to treat these proceedings as just another marketing exercise and not a criminal case brought by a duly appointed federal prosecutor in a federal court," Jackson said at the time.

Jackson was a nominee of President Barack Obama, and since she joined the court 2011, she sentenced former Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife and has handled several politically charged cases. She is also presiding over the case against conservative political operative Roger Stone.

RELATED: Judge blasts Roger Stone book release amid gag order

How many years should Manafort get?

Manafort has already agreed with prosecutors about how harsh his punishment should be. According to the plea documents he signed last September, Manafort's behavior merits between 17 years and 22 years in prison.

When he initially signed the plea deal, prosecutors were willing to ask for a sentence that was much lower. Their leniency was contingent on his cooperation -- but his cooperation fell through when he lied in interviews with Mueller and to a grand jury. The broken plea deal allows for the prosecutors to stand behind an almost two-decade prison sentence recommendation.

This amount of time, however, is double the 10-year maximum Manafort can receive for the two crimes he'll be sentenced for. Altogether, this suggests Jackson could look toward the upward end of what's possible.

It's rare for defendants to get sentences that reach the maximum amounts allowed by law. Manafort's situation is a really rare one.

RELATED: Why Judge T.S. Ellis gave Paul Manafort 47 months in prison

How many years could Manafort get?

There's a cap that Jackson cannot go above on Wednesday.

Jackson is only sentencing him for two charges that together have a 10 year maximum sentence. Legal experts believe she will not be able to go higher than 10 years, even with his additional admissions and bad actions.

Even if Jackson comes down hard, Manafort's total time in prison looks as if it won't be longer than 14 years. She will also determine whether the sentence runs concurrently with the four years already prescribed to Manafort, or in addition to that time.

Downing tried to make an end run around this before with Ellis, a judge with whom he's had more success building a rapport. Could Ellis order that Manafort's four years run concurrently with whatever Jackson deals him, Downing asked.

Ellis said no. The decision rests entirely with Jackson.

Prosecutors haven't yet explicitly asked her to consider structuring her sentence for Manafort consecutive to Ellis'. The special counsel's office said in February they might do just that.

If Jackson does choose to make Manafort serve his sentences consecutively, he will likely be in prison for longer than four years.

Manafort turns 70 on April 1. So at this time in his life, a prison term totaling a decade may take away a significant portion of his elder years.

Will Jackson touch on allegations of Russian collusion?

Ellis made clear that last week's sentencing wasn't related to crimes regarding any collusion with the Russians when Manafort led the campaign.

But will Jackson do the same?

Mueller surely investigated that allegation, according to a memo from the Deputy Attorney General to Mueller in 2017 and more recently when prosecutors discussed Manafort's contact with his Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik. The Mueller team has even revealed some of the still-secret details of their investigation to the judge in Washington.

Kilimnik may come up at Manafort's sentencing Wednesday because he is a co-defendant in the witness tampering crime. (Kilimnik lives in Russia and has not entered a plea in US court.)

Other than that, Jackson has kept details about Manafort and Kilimnik under seal because the prosecutors say it is part of an ongoing investigation -- separate from the case she'll sentence Manafort in. The crimes before Jackson aside from witness tampering largely focus on Manafort's lobbying business for Ukrainian politicians and in the US prior to 2016.

The most nods at Russian collusion on Wednesday may come from Manafort's side -- as they echo the President's ire with Mueller's investigation. A presidential pardon would be one of the few trump cards to free Manafort from the prison term.

At the beginning of Manafort's case, a politicized public statement from Downing prompted Jackson to put a broad gag order on the case, preventing Downing, Manafort and others from speaking outside of court again.

So Manafort's team took their attacks of Mueller to a civil lawsuit Jackson quickly dismissed and other in-court pleadings.

"There is no evidence of Russian collusion," they've written. Downing repeated the "no collusion" mantra in a brief statement to the media following Manafort's sentencing Thursday.

"Though some may disagree with Mr. Manafort's politics and may not like some of the individuals he worked for, it cannot be said that Mr. Manafort has had anything but an extraordinary and largely successful career and played a significant role in promoting democratic values," they wrote to Jackson in a recent court filing.

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