Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final filings against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort are likely bad news for Manafort, but may be — oddly — good news for President Donald Trump.
Mueller and his team made their final required filing in Manafort’s case late Friday, submitting a “government sentencing memorandum” to the United States District Court in Washington, D.C., justifying their request for a harsh, 17-year prison sentence against Manafort.
In it, the government argues that 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),” both before and after he was under scrutiny by the Special Counsel.
Manafort’s portfolio of crimes include incidents going back more than a decade to 2005, to when Manafort was a lobbying the federal government on issues involving Russia and Ukraine. They run all the way up to last year, when Manafort was discovered to have engaged in witness tampering, even after he was indicted on tax fraud charges.
But what the government sentencing document — and Manafort’s apparent list of transgressions — doesn’t include is evidence of actual collusion with Russia during the course of the Trump for President campaign, the actual focus of Mueller’s investigation. Instead, the filing simply says that Manafort committed some of his crimes while under the “spotlight” of the campaign.
“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,” Mueller’s filing says. “Given the breadth of Manafort’s criminal activity, the government has not located a comparable case with the unique array of crimes and aggravating factor.”
The document is by no means easy on Manafort, and it shouldn’t be. There does not appear to be an authority Manafort didn’t lie to, both before and during the Mueller investigation, and Manafort doesn’t appear to have much of an excuse as to why, except some stories about a particularly difficult childhood, which the government argues is no mitigating factor at all.
But Democrats will be disappointed to note that Trump’s campaign is almost never mentioned in the 25-page filing (although there are a few redacted portions that could demonstrate some connection to the president and his 2016 campaign). Russia is, of course, mentioned, but only in relation to Manafort’s lobbying work on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych, which ended before 2014, and well before Trump ever entered the 2016 presidential race.
Potential “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government is never mentioned.
One item does seem to be from the correct era — an instance of “false statements to the Department of Justice” in late 2016, just before the presidential election — but those statements appear, based on the filing, to relate to Mueller’s (and before him, the Justice Department’s) investigation of his work with Ukraine. Instead of lying about something new, it seems Manafort was still covering for actions he took years earlier.
Mueller’s report is expected in early March, but so far, it seems, may have little in the way of evidence that the Trump campaign is guilty of collusion, as a number of Democrats desire.