Manafort gets 47 months, judge cites mostly ‘blameless’ life
By MATTHEW BARAKAT and STEPHEN BRAUN
Friday, March 8
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison for tax and bank fraud related to his work advising Ukrainian politicians, much less than what was called for under sentencing guidelines.
Manafort, sitting in a wheelchair as he deals with complications from gout, had no visible reaction as he heard the 47-month sentence. While that was the longest sentence to date to come from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, it could have been much worse for Manafort. Sentencing guidelines called for a 20-year term, effectively a lifetime sentence for the 69-year-old.
Judge T.S. Ellis III, discussing character reference letters submitted by Manafort’s friends and family, said Manafort had lived an “otherwise blameless life.”
Manafort has been jailed since June, so he will receive credit for the nine months he has already served. He still faces the possibility of additional time from his sentencing in a separate case in the District of Columbia, where he pleaded guilty to charges related to illegal lobbying.
Ellis imposed the sentence, Manafort told him that “saying I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement.” But he offered no explicit apology, something Ellis noted before issuing his sentence.
Manafort steered Donald Trump’s election efforts during crucial months of the 2016 campaign as Russia sought to meddle in the election through hacking of Democratic email accounts. He was among the first Trump associates charged in the Mueller investigation and has been a high-profile defendant.
But the charges against Manafort were unrelated to his work on the campaign or the focus of Mueller’s investigation: whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians.
A jury last year convicted Manafort on eight counts, concluding that he hid from the IRS millions of dollars he earned from his work in Ukraine.
Manafort’s lawyers argued that their client had engaged in what amounted to a routine tax evasion case, and cited numerous past sentences in which defendants had hidden millions from the IRS and served less than a year in prison.
Prosecutors said Manafort’s conduct was egregious, but Ellis ultimately agreed more with defense attorneys. “These guidelines are quite high,” Ellis said.
Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys had requested a particular sentence length in their sentencing memoranda, but prosecutors had urged a “significant” sentence.
Outside court, Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, said his client accepted responsibility for his conduct “and there was absolutely no evidence that Mr. Manafort was involved in any collusion with the government of Russia.”
Prosecutors left the courthouse without making any comment.
Though Manafort hasn’t faced charges related to collusion, he has been seen as one of the most pivotal figures in the Mueller investigation. Prosecutors, for instance, have scrutinized his relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate U.S. authorities say is tied to Russian intelligence, and have described a furtive meeting the men had in August 2016 as cutting to the heart of the investigation.
After pleading guilty in the D.C. case, Manafort met with investigators for more than 50 hours as part of a requirement to cooperate with the probe. But prosecutors reiterated at Thursday’s hearing that they believe Manafort was evasive and untruthful in his testimony to a grand jury.
Manafort was wheeled into the courtroom about 3:45 p.m. in a green jumpsuit from the Alexandria jail, where he spent the last several months in solitary confinement. The jet black hair he bore in 2016 when serving as campaign chairman was gone, replaced by a shaggy gray. He spent much of the hearing hunched at the shoulders, bearing what appeared to be an air of resignation.
Defense lawyers had argued that Manafort would never have been charged if it were not for Mueller’s probe. At the outset of the trial, even Ellis agreed with that assessment, suggesting that Manafort was being prosecuted only to pressure him to “sing” against Trump. Prosecutors said the Manafort investigation preceded Mueller’s appointment.
The jury convicted Manafort on eight felonies related to tax and bank fraud charges for hiding foreign income from his work in Ukraine from the IRS and later inflating his income on bank loan applications. Prosecutors have said the work in Ukraine was on behalf of politicians who were closely aligned with Russia, though Manafort insisted his work helped those politicians distance themselves from Russia and align with the West.
In arguing for a significant sentence, prosecutor Greg Andres said Manafort still hasn’t accepted responsibility for his misconduct.
“His sentencing positions are replete with blaming others,” Andres said. He also said Manafort still has not provided a full account of his finances for purposes of restitution, a particularly egregious omission given that his crime involved hiding more than $55 million in overseas bank accounts to evade paying more than $6 million in federal income taxes.
The lack of certainty about Manafort’s finances complicated the judge’s efforts to impose restitution, but Ellis ultimately ordered that Manafort could be required to pay back up to $24 million.
In the D.C. case, Manafort faces up to five years in prison on each of two counts to which he pleaded guilty. The judge will have the option to impose any sentence there concurrent or consecutive to the sentence imposed by Ellis.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
Judge dismisses porn star’s hush money suit against Trump
By BRIAN MELLEY
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday tossed out porn actress Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit against President Donald Trump that sought to tear up a hush-money settlement about their alleged affair.
U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero in Los Angeles said the suit was irrelevant after Trump and his former personal lawyer agreed not to penalize Daniels for violating a nondisclosure agreement she signed in exchange for a $130,000 payment.
Attorney Michael Cohen admitted in federal court he arranged the payment to silence Daniels and help Trump win the presidency. He pleaded guilty to campaign violations.
Trump has denied the alleged 2006 affair.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, had wanted a court to declare the agreement illegal so she could speak out without fear of financial penalties if she violated it.
The shell company Cohen set up to handle the deal, Essential Consultants, had once sought to fight Daniels in arbitration for violating the nondisclosure agreement by speaking in public about the alleged affair. Cohen had even threatened a $20 million lawsuit against her before vowing not to.
In seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, the president and Cohen effectively gave Daniels what she was initially seeking. They vowed not to seek penalties for breaking the deal.
Daniels had fought dismissal of the case because she wanted to record sworn testimony from the two.
Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, made no mention of that broader goal in declaring victory Thursday.
“The court found that Ms. Daniels received everything she asked for by way of the lawsuit — she won,” Avenatti said.
Avenatti had said he would seek legal fees in the case, but the judge said that was no longer an issue for him to decide.
Otero sent the case back to Los Angeles Superior Court, where it was initially filed. He said that move does not mean the litigation would continue there, but said Daniels may be entitled to legal fees.
Last year, Otero ordered Daniels to pay Trump $293,000 in attorney’s fees after dismissing a defamation lawsuit she brought against him.
Attorney Charles Harder, who represents Trump, said the ruling on top of the previous award of fees represents a “total victory” for the president.
Refugees forced to return to Syria face imprisonment, death at the hands of Assad
March 8, 2019
Author: Mark Ward, Lecturer, University of Washington
Disclosure statement: Mark Ward does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Washington provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
I worked on the Syrian-Turkish border from 2012-16, leading the U.S. government team that was pushing hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian and other aid into northwest Syria. We were helping communities that had been cut off by the Syrian government.
Maybe no American official heard more about the suffering inside Syria at the hands of the Syrian regime than I did.
More than 3.5 million Syrian refugees fled violence and persecution in Syria for Turkey. Some faced forced conscription into the army to fight their fellow Syrians. Some paid huge bribes to escape torture for demonstrating peacefully against the regime.
Most couldn’t take another day of indiscriminate bombing of innocent civilians in schools, hospitals and markets.
I left Turkey in 2016, retired from the U.S. government in 2017 and follow Syria as a private American citizen. I also teach about foreign aid at the University of Washington.
The Syrian government shelled its own people during the civil war.
Last month I was in Berlin for two days, coaching a group of Syrian civil society organizations about how to make themselves heard at an upcoming meeting of European Union nations in Brussels on the future of Syria.
These Syrian activists know the civil war is lost, that Bashar al-Assad will remain in power for the foreseeable future (thanks to his Russian and Iranian backers) and that the West did very little when it came to backing real change in Syria.
But they know there is one battle left to fight: the battle to stop Syrian refugees from being forced to return to Syria against their will.
The burden the refugees put on Syria’s neighbors is clear.
There are half a million Syrian refugees living in towns and cities across Jordan, a country already hosting tens of thousands of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. In Lebanon, there are nearly a million Syrian refugees – that’s one-sixth of the population. More than 3 million are living in Turkey.
A small percentage live in camps in Jordan and Turkey; there are no refugee camps in Lebanon. Most refugees are living in Jordanian, Lebanese and Turkish communities, sharing services with local populations.
The governments and people of these countries deserve the world’s thanks for the hospitality they’ve shown.
Some other countries have tried to help. The U.S. Agency for International Development, for example, spent hundreds of millions in Jordan to help communities near the Syrian border cope with increased demands for education and medical care.
I saw the Zakat Foundation, a private American charity from Chicago, running “second-shift schools” for Syrian children in Turkey, after the Turkish children had left their schools for the day.
But this work pales in comparison with the generosity extended by the neighboring countries themselves.
Danger in returning
As grateful as they are for the welcome in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, the refugees want to go home and try to put their lives back together. Their homes, their property, their cemeteries and loved ones are inside Syria.
But as a longtime humanitarian aid official, I believe that now is not the time.
Syria’s security services were always strong. They suspect nearly everyone who left the country of loyalty to the opposition. No one should trust a regime that bombed innocent civilians for years, probably detained more than 200,000 without trial and is reported to have killed its own civilians with chemical weapons.
Without strong international oversight, I foresee that premature refugee returns will mean many thousands more in prison, tortured, conscripted and missing.
What’s the alternative to forcing refugees to return too soon?
Providing more support to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to expand services for the refugees and the communities that host them is one way to help these refugees during this period.
Europe can expand the European Union’s Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syria Crisis, or MADAD (Arabic for expand), project. MADAD supports countries hosting refugees by investing in health and education, economic development and job creation.
All countries can help Syria’s neighbors through multilateral programs like the Syria Recovery Trust Fund. The fund assists Syrian communities in opposition-controlled areas by paying for basic services like water and power.
Refugees will not return before these services are restored. With a mandate to work in Syria’s neighboring countries too, and with greater resources, the SRTF could also help Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan cope with the refugee numbers.
Helping Syria’s refugees where they are won’t be cheap, but it will be cheaper than rebuilding Syria. Until there is a realistic political settlement of the conflict, with enforceable legal rights for returning refugees, rebuilding Syria should be left to the Syrian government.
At the conference in Brussels next week, attendees could focus on the usual response to Syria’s problems by providing more short-term fixes, like safe zones inside Syria – safe from Syrian government attack – to which refugees could return safely. But these would not come with a long-term commitment to protect the refugees who return there.
And that approach will just kick the problem down the road. It may turn parts of Syria into a “no-man’s land” someday and a haven for terrorists.
I had dinner with some Syrian friends on my last night in Berlin, seven brave young people who are trying to help communities cut off by the regime. They love their country, want to go back and help rebuild it.
I asked them if they would go back now, when the bombing has mostly stopped and countries are beginning to resume diplomatic relations with Damascus.
They smiled sadly, shook their heads and said, “Not yet.”
How women wage war – a short history of IS brides, Nazi guards and FARC insurgents
March 8, 2019
Author: Jessica Trisko Darden, Assistant Professor of International Affairs, American University School of International Service
Disclosure statement: Jessica Trisko Darden is a Jeane Kirkpatrick Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Partners: American University School of International Service provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The names of American-born Hoda Muthana and Brit Shamima Begum have appeared in countless headlines in the United States and Europe since these two female members of the Islamic State group were discovered in a large displaced persons camp weeks ago.
The women were among the holdouts in Islamic State’s last stronghold in Baghouz, Syria. When they were found by journalists, one was pregnant and the other was caring for her young child.
In the four years that these women lived as part of IS, they went from a self-described idyll in IS’s capital, Raqqa, to fleeing airstrikes with little more than the clothes on their backs. Now, as young mothers, they have been held up as iconic IS brides, evidence of the group’s ability to distort the minds of vulnerable teenagers.
In numerous interviews, these two women have wholeheartedly adopted this narrative.
“When I went to Syria, I was just a housewife for the entire four years – stayed at home, took care of my husband, took care of my kids,” Begum told Sky News. Although Muthana incited the murder of Americans on Twitter, according to these women’s accounts they did not take part in Islamic State’s violence. They did not even see it.
A history of impunity
We’ve heard this story before.
As Wendy Lower meticulously details in “Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields,” roughly half a million German women followed their husbands or volunteered to settle the territory conquered by Nazi Germany in Eastern Europe. Women on the Eastern Front were integral to the expansion of the Nazi state, serving in key administrative, logistical and medical roles.
Some of these Nazi women also perpetrated horrific crimes. As many as 5,000 served as concentration camp guards. Roughly 10,000 women were SS auxiliaries, or Helferinnen, serving in a bureaucracy that murdered millions in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and elsewhere. A total of 7,900 women were employed in the SS Frauenkorps, where those working as secretaries would often decide which political prisoners ended up on the day’s kill lists. Thousands more Nazi nurses assisted in heinous medical experiments and euthanasia.
Yet, like most of the women in IS, Nazi women did not engage in armed combat. They clung to the gender roles and identities that National Socialism had created for them as wives and mothers.
As the Third Reich collapsed around them, most Nazi women in the East fled and returned to their former lives in Germany. Of the few who were apprehended, only a small portion ever faced justice. Following a military trial, the United Kingdom executed one such woman – Irma Grese, a 22-year-old Bergen-Belsen guard. But the vast majority of Nazi women were never held to account for their crimes, in Germany or abroad.
The roles carved out for women in Islamic State and Nazi Germany as wives and mothers, first, and perpetrators of violence, second, differ from the experiences of most women in armed groups.
In “Insurgent Women: Female Combatants in Civil Wars,” Alexis Henshaw, Ora Szekely and I detail women’s participation in conflicts in Colombia, Ukraine and the Kurdish regions of the Middle East. Women in rebel groups in these contexts often participate in combat, in addition to communications, logistics and other support roles.
In Colombia’s FARC, women were first mobilized with their families as the wives of fighters. Only later were women permitted to take up arms, eventually constituting between 30 and 40 percent of the FARC’s fighting force. Unlike IS, which encouraged women to give birth to grow the population of the caliphate, the FARC heavily regulated women’s fertility and sexual relations. Forced abortions and abandoned children were accepted as a cost of victory.
FARC rebels pose with an unidentified girl in southern Colombia. REUTERS/National Police/Handout
In contrast, many women who took up arms against the Ukrainian military in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine did so precisely because they were mothers. Women in these pro-Russian separatist groups often say they are fighting to protect their families and their homeland, having been abandoned by men who are avoiding conscription by both sides of the conflict.
Yelena Dustova, a 39-year-old mother of three, said, “What, should I allow them to shoot at me in my town? No. I will stand here so that they won’t be allowed to pass. I have my mom and kids in there.”
As our book “Insurgent Women” details, rebel women in the Donbas see no tension between their duties driving tanks, staffing checkpoints or serving as snipers and their roles as daughters, mothers and wives.
Holding women accountable
Women’s roles in armed groups vary. But, in large part due to their ability to blur the line between civilian and combatant, women’s often unseen contributions to conflict can be key to an armed group’s success.
The mobilization of more than 4,700 women like Shamima Begum and Hoda Muthana by IS was unprecedented because they were foreign. But women’s participation in violent projects to remake their societies is more common than we realize.
Tens of thousands of Nazi women escaped justice. This historical precedent should be considered as governments decide how they will hold the women of IS to account for their crimes.
This is an important article on several levels. Firstly, it reminds us that justice should be blind. Race, religion, gender, or any other social construct should not permit a person from escaping justice or deny a person from seeking opportunity.
The article also reminds us that true gender equality is a two-sided coin. Women should receive all the societal benefits that are accorded to men but for that to happen they will also have to bare the societal burdens.
It also reminds us that the justice system is heavily biased against men. In the US women who commit identical criminal acts to men are often charged with lesser crimes. And upon conviction for the same crimes are generally given lighter sentences.
Societies throughout history have placed unfair burdens on women often in the form of opportunity denial. This was done under the pretense that women were needed to care for the children and household. Women were also given additional protections and courtesies for the same reasons. Perhaps it is time to reset. I applaud Ms. Trisko Darden’s analysis.