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How Donald Trump Led to Paul Manafort's Downfall

If he had never joined Donald Trump#8217s campaign, Paul Manafort would likely be a free man today.

Instead, the longtime political consultant is facing just under four years in a federal prison, the latest victim of the intense scrutiny that Trump has drawn to those around him for actions in his first two years in office.

As Judge T.S. Ellis III reminded the crowd at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. at the start of the lengthy hearing, Manafort was not being sentenced #8220for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government to influence this election.#8221

That#8217s not to say it was was entirely unrelated to that investigation, however.

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Before he became Trump#8217s campaign chairman in the summer of 2016, Manafort spent years helping Moscow-backed political parties in Ukraine, hiding from U.S. tax officials over $55 million in payments in more than 30 overseas bank accounts, leading to the bank and tax fraud charges.

During the campaign, he joined Donald Trump Jr. and Trump#8217s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. At another point, as prosecutors told the judge in an assertion accidentally made public in a court filing, he shared valuable campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, who investigators allege has ties to Russian intelligence.

Manafort#8217s connections to Russia drew the attention of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose team uncovered the hidden payments and brought the charges as a standard tactic used to pressure valuable witnesses in an investigation into cooperating. For a while, it looked like that might work.

After he was convicted in a related case in a Virginia court in August, Manafort agreed to cooperate and spent hours in Mueller#8217s office. But prosecutors later accused him of lying and hiding facts from them, including about the Kilimnik meeting.

The sentence was well below guidelines, which recommended a 19- to 24-year prison term. Ellis, who had been skeptical of Mueller#8217s prosecutors from the start of the trial, said that though Manafort#8217s crimes were serious, such a long sentence would not have been appropriate.

Manafort is one of six people who worked on Trump#8217s campaign in some capacity who have since ended up in legal trouble, either for lying to investigators or for illegal dealings in their personal lives. The list includes his one-time junior business partner and deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates; foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos; national security adviser Michael Flynn; Trump#8217s personal attorney, Michael Cohen; and his longtime informal adviser, Roger Stone.

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