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Defense Attorneys Repeatedly Go After Robert Mueller for Calling Manafort a ‘Brazen’ Criminal


Last Friday, special counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors filed the much anticipated sentencing memo for Paul Manafort in Washington, D.C. under seal. The filing, which included redactions, went public the next day and did not go into detail about links to Russians and Trump campaign poll data sharing, unlike the plea breach hearings. Nonetheless, Team Mueller did go into detail about a litany of alleged crimes and came to the same conclusion about them as they did in the Eastern District of Virginia.

In Virginia, they said Manafort’s bank and tax fraud could be traced to “greed“; they said these crimes were “brazen” in nature and committed over the course of many years. In D.C., the special counsel used the word “brazen” for a second time. They reiterated that “for over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law” and that “his crimes continued up thorough the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment,” even engaging in “witness tampering while on bail.” That’s why both Manafort and Russian operative Konstanin Kilimnik would later be charged in this case with conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. It’s also why Manafort has been incarcerated since before his first trial and remains there up to and through his sentencing.

Manafort’s lawyers were ordered to respond with a memo of their own on Monday, and it dropped after 8 p.m. They began by saying their client has “served four U.S. presidents and has no prior criminal history,” but has nonetheless been prosecuted by Mueller as if he is a “hardened criminal who ‘brazenly’ violated the law and deserves no mercy.”

“But this case is not about murder, drug cartels, organized crime, the Madoff Ponzi scheme or the collapse of Enron,” they said. “Rather, at its core, the charges against the defendant stem from one operable set of facts: Mr. Manafort made a substantial amount of income working as a political consultant in Ukraine, he failed to report to the government the source and total amount of income he made from those activities, and he attempted to conceal his actions from the authorities. He has accepted full responsibility by pleading guilty to this conduct.”

In a footnote, they dinged media “hyperbole” and emphasized that their client is a non-violent felon who did not have a prior criminal record.

“Hyperbole in news stories, of course, cannot be controlled. But the government sentencing memorandum clearly seeks to paint Mr. Manafort as a hardened criminal,” they continued. “Again, this case involves no fraud on individuals or pension plans, no violence or drugs, and the defendant is an individual with no prior criminal record.”

They also criticized the prosecution for using the term “conspiracy against the United States.” They put that in quotations in the filing and added this in a footnote:

The actual title of the offense charged by the Special Counsel under 18 U.S.C. § 371 is “conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud United States,” not “conspiracy against the United States,” which obviously sounds more ominous.

From here, they say that the special counsel admits that Manafort’s crimes were “garden-variety,” and noted that Manafort “has not been charged with any crimes related to the primary focus of the Special Counsel’s investigation; i.e., ‘any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump[,]’ otherwise referred to as ‘Russian collusion’ by the national media.”

“As said at the beginning of the case, there is no evidence of Russian collusion,” they said, mentioning collusion again. “Mr. Manafort’s work involved interests outside of Russia and his efforts to help Ukraine attain membership in the European Union was to further the interests of Ukrainian oligarchs who were trying to protect their assets from Russia.”

The defense attorneys also said that Manafort has been “widely vilified in a manner that this country has not experienced in decades” and that he has been harshly prosecuted for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act [FARA] to a “magnitude […] previously unknown in the enforcement of FARA.”

The lawyers said everything changed in July 2017, when the FBI showed up at Manafort’s house with guns drawn. They emphasized that the FBI wasn’t there for collusion but the “obscure FARA statute”:

Things changed dramatically for the defendant in July 2017. Just two months after the Special Counsel’s appointment, more than a dozen armed federal agents conducted a pre-dawn search of Mr. Manafort’s Alexandria, Virginia, residence. Rousing the defendant and his wife from bed, the federal agents entered their home with guns drawn and searched high and low—not for evidence of Russia collusion—but rather for evidence of tax and financial crimes and Mr. Manafort’s failure to file forms under the obscure FARA statute.

Meanwhile, substantial assets were frozen by the government, thus limiting Mr. Manafort’s ability to pay his obligations. Such harsh tactics are usually employed in organized crime cases, not tax investigations or cases involving allegations that the defendant failed to file a form identifying lobbying activities. Most certainly, such tactics are not employed when the person is cooperating with the government’s inquiries, as Mr. Manafort was with the congressional examinations. All of these actions occurred prior to any formal charges being lodged and the government’s forceful maneuvers had their intended effect; i.e., to dramatically ratchet up the pressure on Mr. Manafort.

They again denied that Manafort is a “brazen” criminal and said the “Special Counsel’s attempt to portray him as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this Court.”

The defense requested a sentence “significantly below the statutory maximum sentence in this case.” Manafort faces the maximum of 10 years in this case. The special counsel recommended 19-24.5 years in the Virginia case.

“A lengthy jail sentence is not called for in this case and would not further the statutory goals of sentencing,” Team Manafort said. “As a result of this widely-reported case, the public now understands what can happen when the full prosecutorial force of the United States government is brought down upon an individual, and would-be violators have been generally deterred from engaging in similar conduct.”

They also cited the 69-year-old Manafort’s failing health as a reason he should get less than the maximum, saying since Manafort was incarcerated he’s been taking unspecified over-the-counter drugs, plus medication for gout, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, psoriasis, and arthritis. They also claim jail doctors have recently “identified a potential thyroid problem.” They pointed out CNN’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin commented on their client’s failing health (“this man is really, really in danger of losing his life”).

You can read the rest of the memo below.

[Image via Keith Lane and Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.