Manhattan prosecutors charged Paul Manafort with a laundry list of crimes Wednesday immediately after his federal case wrapped up with a hefty prison sentence — an aggressive effort to make sure the disgraced Republican operative faces prison time even if President Trump tries to pardon him.
Minutes after Manafort was sentenced to seven and a half years behind bars for his conviction in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. unsealed an indictment slamming the former Trump campaign chairman with 16 counts of mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records.
The 11-page indictment charges Manafort orchestrated a massive self-enrichment scheme between December 2015 and March 2016, in which he used his former SoHo loft on Howard Street and other properties to illegally obtain at least $4 million in loans. Manafort had help from at least six unnamed co-conspirators, according to the court papers.
Trump has broad executive power to pardon whoever he wants for federal crimes, such as the ones Manafort were convicted of in Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Russians and Trump associates before the 2016 election.
However, the President cannot pardon state crimes, like the ones Vance filed against Manafort.
Sources familiar with Vance’s thinking told the Daily News that the mortgage fraud indictment serves as a firewall to make sure Manafort faces justice in the event of a presidential pardon.
A spokesman for Manafort did not return a request for comment and neither did Rudy Guiliani, the President’s top attorney in the special counsel investigation.
Trump has not explicitly said he will pardon Manafort but has frequently praised his former campaign chief for not cooperating with federal authorities, calling him a “brave man” who refused to “break.”
Giuliani even told The News in June that Mueller’s inquiry “might get cleaned up” with “presidential pardons” after Manafort had been ordered to jail pending trial.
But Trump was more cautious following Manafort’s sentencing.
“I have not even given it a thought as of this moment,” he told reporters at the White House when asked if he is considering pardoning Manafort. “It’s not something that’s right now on my mind.”
Vance’s announcement came on the heels of federal Washington Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentencing Manafort to 43 months in prison on charges of money laundering and obstruction, in addition to the 47 months he had already been slammed with in a separate fraud case in Virginia.
Manafort unsuccessfully begged Jackson for compassion.
“Please let my wife and I be together. Please do not take away any longer than the 47 months,” the 70-year-old convicted criminal said. “If not for me, then for my family.”
Jackson wasn’t convinced.
“There is no good explanation that would warrant the leniency requested,” Jackson said before announcing the sentence, stressing it’s “hard to overstate” the seriousness of Manafort’s lies and crimes.
The Manhattan DA’s grand jury indictment against Manafort was the result of an investigation Vance’s office started in March 2017.
Vance specifically noted the alleged crimes strike “at the heart of New York’s sovereign interests.”
“No one is beyond the law in New York,” Vance said in a statement. “I thank our prosecutors for their meticulous investigation, which has yielded serious criminal charges for which the defendant has not been held accountable.”
Manafort’s lawyers are likely going to argue he can’t be charged by Vance because of New York’s rigorous double jeopardy laws, which prohibits the state from prosecuting defendants for crimes they’ve already been convicted of in federal court.
But Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor who also used to serve in the Manhattan DA’s office as its asset forfeiture chief, argued Vance’s indictment was “carefully crafted” to avoid the double jeopardy issue.
“Whoever put this indictment together did a very good job of carving out a niche that can be prosecuted,” Levin said, adding Vance’s charges stand out in that they focus on mortgage fraud as opposed to Manafort’s federal fraud charges, which relate to banks and taxes.
Nonetheless, Levin said it’s indisputable that Vance’s indictment is at least partially meant as a warning shot to Trump.
“The possibility of a pardon is clearly somewhere in the mix,” he said. “I think when the possibility of a pardon is dangled out there so often, it played some role in the decision.”
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