'Manafort's f---ed': New York state prosecutors emerge as the biggest threat yet to Paul Manafort

Paul ManafortPaul ManafortChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

  • Paul Manafort was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on Wednesday after he was convicted on eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud, failure to report foreign bank accounts, conspiracy, and obstruction.
  • One Justice Department veteran said Manafort should be "thankful" for his sentence, especially given that President Donald Trump could pardon him. Even if he doesn't, federal guidelines indicate he could get out of prison as early as 2024.
  • But just minutes after he was sentenced, New York state prosecutors slapped Manafort with a 16-count indictment accusing him of mortgage fraud, falsifying business records, conspiracy, and scheme to defraud.
  • Legal scholars said Manafort may not be as lucky in fighting the state charges. One former White House official put it bluntly, telling INSIDER, "Manafort's f---ed ... The guy's screwed."
  • Two people with knowledge of Manafort's legal team's thought process told INSIDER they are preparing to mount a double-jeopardy defense against the new charges.
  • But another DOJ veteran told INSIDER prosecutors would likely overcome that defense because the conduct outlined in the state's indictment against Manafort appears to be separate from what the special counsel Robert Mueller accused him of, and supports different criminal charges.

On Wednesday, a federal judge sentenced Paul Manafort to an additional three and a half years in prison, on top of the nearly four years he was sentenced to last week in the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 US election.

Minutes later, the Manhattan district attorney's office, led by Cyrus Vance, Jr., unveiled a 16-count indictment against the former chairman of President Donald Trump's campaign, charging Manafort with a variety of financial crimes including mortgage fraud, falsifying business records, conspiracy, and scheme to defraud.

One former White House official close to the Trump legal team, reached for comment by INSIDER, put it bluntly when reacting to the new charges: "Manafort's f---ed," this person said.

Read more: New York state prosecutors indict Manafort on new charges just minutes after he was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison in the Mueller probe

The development represented a significant departure from last week, when US District Judge T.S. Ellis in the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison - well short of federal sentencing guidelines - after he was found guilty of eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud, and failure to report foreign bank accounts.

Federal guidelines recommend 19.5 to 24 years for the crimes Manafort was convicted of, but Ellis said that long a sentence would be "excessive" in Manafort's case, adding that he had led an "otherwise blameless life."

On Wednesday, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson - who oversaw the second case against Manafort, which was brought in Washington, DC - pushed back against Ellis' characterization.

"The criminal conduct in this case was not an isolated, single incident," she said during Manafort's second sentencing hearing. "A significant portion of [Manafort's] career has been spent gaming the system."

Read more: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort sentenced to an additional 3 1/2 years in prison, will serve 7 1/2 years total

Paul ManafortFormer Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort (2nd R) arrives with his wife Kathleen Manafort (R) at the Albert V. Bryan US Courthouse for an arraignment hearing.Alex Wong/Getty Images

'The guy was a one-man crime spree'

Manafort pleaded guilty in the Washington, DC, case to one count of conspiracy and one count of obstruction. Jackson sentenced him to 60 months for the first count, with 30 months concurrent with his sentence in the Virginia case.

For the second count, Jackson sentenced Manafort to 13 months in prison. In total, Manafort has been sentenced to 90 months, or seven-and-a-half years, in prison for his crimes related to the Russia probe.

Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in arguing financial-crime and money-laundering cases, said Jackson's sentence was "tough but fair."

"Manafort's previous sentence in Virginia was outside of the norm in its leniency," Levin told INSIDER. "Added together, the sentence is exactly in the realm of what one might have expected."

Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department, went a step further and told INSIDER Manafort should be "thankful" for his ultimate sentence.

"The guy was a one-man crime spree to the tune of tens of millions of dollars," Cramer said. "He will only serve 85% [of his sentence] under the federal rules and will receive credit for the nine months already spent in prison." Ultimately, legal scholars said, Manafort could be out by late 2024, despite prosecutors urging for a stricter sentence.

Read more: Mueller called Manafort a 'hardened' criminal who 'repeatedly and brazenly violated the law' in a harsh sentencing memo

In all, things seemed to be going as well as they could for the former Trump campaign chairman. That is, until New York state prosecutors announced their 16-count indictment against Manafort just after Jackson ruled on his sentence in the Russia probe.

cyrus vanceManhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.Andrew Burton/Getty Images

'When you have to ask yourself which prosecution is worse, the federal one or the state one, you're in some big trouble either way'

The charges were not unexpected; Bloomberg News reported last month that state prosecutors were putting together a criminal case against Manafort in the event that Trump pardoned him. The Constitution grants the president broad authority to pardon federal crimes, but he does not have the power to pardon state offenses.

Levin, who used to work in the Manhattan district attorney's office as the Chief of Asset Forfeiture under Vance, characterized the state charges as "serious," adding that they would "stand alone, regardless of what happens with the federal case."

Two people with knowledge of Manafort's legal team's thought process told INSIDER they are preparing to mount a double-jeopardy defense, arguing that the conduct Manafort is accused of in the state's case is too similar to what Mueller accused him of, and he cannot be tried for the same crimes twice.

Read more: The 2 reasons why Paul Manafort would lie to prosecutors and risk life in prison

The New York state constitution prohibits subsequent state prosecutions that stem from the same acts or transactions as federal charges. But Levin noted that likely would not be "an insurmountable problem" in this case because the conduct outlined in the state's indictment against Manafort appears to be separate from what Mueller accused him of, and supports different criminal charges.

The former White House official largely agreed, telling INSIDER, "Manafort's best bet here is to claim double jeopardy, but even then, the chances he'll be successful in avoiding additional jail time are slim to none."

This person added: "In the Mueller probe, Manafort could at least count on a presidential pardon if he played his cards right - God knows that's the only explanation for why he would violate his plea deal, lie to prosecutors, attempt to tamper with witness testimony after being indicted, and so on. In the New York case, a pardon's completely off the table. The guy's screwed."
Levin echoed that view.
"When you have to ask yourself which prosecution is worse, the federal one of the state one, you're in some big trouble either way," he said.
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