WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller faces a Friday deadline to weigh in on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s punishment in one of his two criminal cases.
The sentencing recommendation comes as the 69-year-old Manafort, who led Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for several critical months, is already staring down the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate case. It could also shed more light on how Manafort fits into Mueller’s larger Russian investigation, which is nearing an end.
In recent weeks, court papers have revealed that Manafort shared polling data related to the Trump campaign with an associate the FBI says has ties to Russian intelligence. A Mueller prosecutor also said earlier this month that an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and the associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, goes to the “heart” of the Russia probe.
The meeting involved a discussion of a Ukrainian peace plan, but prosecutors haven’t said exactly what has captivated their attention and whether it factors into the Kremlin’s attempts to help Trump in the 2016 election.
Like other Americans close to the president charged in the Mueller probe, Manafort hasn’t been accused of being involved in Russian election interference. His criminal case in Washington stems from illegal lobbying he carried out on behalf of Ukrainian interests. As part of a plea deal in the case, Manafort admitted to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Prosecutors aren’t expected to recommend leniency because a judge found earlier this month that Manafort lied to investigators after agreeing to cooperate.
Each count carries a maximum of five years in prison, a much lower potential punishment than in Manafort’s separate tax and bank fraud case in Virginia.
A jury convicted Manafort of eight felony counts last year, and Mueller’s team endorsed a sentence of between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison in that case.
Manafort, who has been jailed for months and turns 70 in April, will have a chance to file his own sentencing recommendation next week.
Manafort’s is set to be sentenced March 8 in Virginia and March 13 in Washington.