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FILE PHOTO: President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort departs U.S. District Court after a motions hearing i...

Mueller’s case against Paul Manafort, explained

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was sentenced Thursday by a federal judge to 47 months in prison for bank and tax fraud connected to his political consulting work in Ukraine.

Manafort was indicted in October 2017 in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He was among the first of 34 individuals and a number of corporations to be indicted in the probe.

He entered the United States District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, Thursday wearing a jumpsuit and in a wheelchair. In a short remarks to Judge T.S. Ellis III, Manafort asked for compassion. “I know it is my conduct that has brought me here,” he said.

Prosecutors asked for a “substantial” prison term, but in handing down the sentence Ellis said the sentencing guidelines of up to 24 years were “excessive.”

The crimes

In August 2018, Manafort was convicted by a jury in federal court in Virginia on two counts of bank fraud, five counts of tax fraud and one count of failing to disclose an offshore bank account. The charges stemmed from Manafort’s political consulting work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.The jury was gridlocked on 10 other fraud charges (one juror cited reasonable doubts). All of the charges were unrelated to Manafort’s work for the Trump campaign. (Manafort resigned as the campaign’s chairman three months before the 2016 election after coming under fire for his lobbying and political consulting work). Manafort has been housed in a jail in Alexandria awaiting the sentencing since then.

Cooperation with Mueller

Following his conviction, Manafort pleaded guilty in a separate case in federal court in Washington, D.C., to illegal lobbying and witness tampering, and agreed to extensive cooperation with prosecutors. Two months later, the special counsel’s office accused Manafort of violating this plea deal by “lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters.” Manafort’s legal team denied the charge and insisted Manafort had provided accurate and truthful information.

READ MORE: How Manafort violated his plea deal, according to Mueller’s latest documents

Mueller’s recommendation

In the special counsel’s sentencing memorandum filed last month in Virginia, Mueller’s team characterized Manafort as someone who sought ways to cheat the system, repeatedly and brazenly violated the law. The special counsel’s office recommended a punishment in line with federal sentencing guidelines of 19 to 24 years in federal prison.

What did the defense say?

In response to Mueller’s memo, Manafort’s defense attorneys in the Virginia case asked Ellis for leniency. They argued that Manafort, a first time offender, was “truly remorseful for his conduct.” They also pointed to Manafort’s age and declining health. Manafort is 69 years old, and suffers from foot pain due to a case of gout.

Possible collusion?

In January, Manafort’s defense attorneys accidentally unsealed court documents that revealed he had shared Trump campaign polling data with a business associate with Russian ties. The revelation could support possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the issue at the center of Mueller’s special counsel investigation. But Manafort’s trials have so far not offered a definitive answer to questions about collusion, including what happened at the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

What next?

Manafort will be back in court on March 13 to be sentenced for the two conspiracy charges, as well as added charges of lying to investigators after signing his plea agreement. Mueller’s office will deliver a sentencing recommendation to Judge Amy Berman Jackson for these charges by Friday.

Seth Waxman, a former federal prosecutor and solicitor general, said he was surprised by Ellis’ verdict, but that he also anticipates that Manafort will serve more than four years once Berman Jackson issues her sentence. If not, Waxman said, then today’s verdict is “definitely a victory for Paul Manafort and for President Trump.”

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