FILE PHOTO: Manafort arrives for arraignment on charges of witness tampering, at U.S. District Court in Washington
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Paul Manafort has been charged in New York with residential mortgage fraud and other felonies, as state lawmakers move to ensure that U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman can be prosecuted even if he receives a presidential pardon.
The 16-count indictment was announced by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance on Wednesday less than an hour after Manafort, 69, was given his second federal prison sentence this month, for a combined term of 7-1/2 years.
“No one is beyond the law in New York,” and the state probe “yielded serious criminal charges for which the defendant has not been held accountable,” Vance, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Manafort was sentenced on Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington to about 3-1/2 additional years in prison on conspiracy charges from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
That sentence came after Manafort was sentenced by another judge last Thursday in Virginia to nearly four years in prison, following his conviction last August on tax evasion and bank fraud charges related to the Mueller probe.
Trump has denied colluding with Moscow. The Kremlin has denied election interference.
Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Manafort, had no comment on the New York case following his client’s sentencing by Jackson.
Rudolph Giuliani, a lawyer for the Republican president and New York City’s former mayor, in a text message called the indictment an “irrational attempt” by Democrats to advance their political agenda.
Vance said the charges in the March 7 indictment related to a year-long scheme in which Manafort and others falsified records to obtain millions of dollars related to property loans.
Manafort faces up to 25 years in prison on the three most serious charges in the latest indictment, residential mortgage fraud in the first degree.
Some charges appeared to relate to testimony in Manafort’s Virginia trial including his alleged effort to disclaim a big American Express bill for season tickets to New York Yankees baseball games to help him qualify for loans.
CHECKS AND BALANCES
It is unclear whether Manafort’s indictment will be challenged on double jeopardy grounds, the doctrine against prosecuting a person twice for the same offense.
Legislation being proposed this week in New York’s state capital of Albany may prevent that from being an issue.
Trump in November said he had not ruled out giving Manafort a pardon. On Wednesday, he said “I have not even given it a thought,” but that he felt “badly” for Manafort.
Presidents possess the power to issue pardons for federal crimes, not state crimes. New York has stronger double jeopardy protections than the U.S. Constitution, which could impede state prosecutions.
A bill proposed by former state attorney general Eric Schneiderman to lessen those protections died last year when control of the state legislature was effectively divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Democrats now have full control, and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol is co-sponsoring joint legislation this week to end such protections for people with what he called “close ties” to the White House, the president and his campaign.
Lentol, a Democrat, said in an interview that this would ensure that Vance, state Attorney General Letitia James and other prosecutors could pursue cases such as Manafort’s.
He said a bill could be ready for Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature as soon as next week.
“There are people associated with the president who may have committed crimes that should not go unpunished,” Lentol said. “It’s a wise thing to have some sort of a mechanism in our law to act as a check and balance on the presidential power to pardon.”
(Reporting by Joseph Ax, Doina Chiacu, Jonathan Stempel and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Will Dunham)