Trump ex-campaign aide Manafort leaves prison for home amid coronavirus

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was released from a federal prison in Pennsylvania on Wednesday to finish his sentence at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, his lawyer said, drawing fresh Democratic criticism over Justice Department actions that have benefited Trump associates.

Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, imprisoned in a separate case, also is expected to be released based on the threat of the coronavirus, a U.S. official familiar with the decision-making regarding inmates said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Todd Blanche, a lawyer for the Manafort, said the 71-year-old veteran Republican political operative was released from the Federal Correctional Institution, Loretto in Cambria County, Pennsylvania and would serve the remainder of his 7-1/2 year sentence in home confinement in Virginia.

Manafort’s legal team last month asked the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for home confinement rather than continued imprisonment, saying his pre-existing health conditions such as high blood pressure, liver disease and respiratory ailments increased his risks should he become infected with the coronavirus.

The pathogen has led to a number of deaths amid the close quarters of federal prisons.

Manafort’s sentence stemmed from two criminal cases arising from former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that documented Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to boost Trump’s candidacy. Manafort’s sentence is due to run until November 2024.

The U.S. official did not provide information on when Cohen is expected to be let out of Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York. Cohen was imprisoned for arranging hush payments to two women who said they had sexual encounters with Trump, financial crimes and lying to Congress. Trump has called Cohen a “rat.” Cohen has called Trump a “racist,” a “con man” and “a cheat.”

House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a pivotal player in Trump’s impeachment, said Manafort’s release from a prison with no reported coronavirus infections raised troubling questions about the department under Attorney General William Barr, a Trump political loyalist.

Schiff among other actions cited Barr’s role in abandoning a tough sentencing recommendation by career federal prosecutors for convicted Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone and in asking a federal judge to drop charges against Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“People have lost confidence in its neutrality that justice is blind. Instead they think justice bends to Donald Trump’s will,” Schiff told MSNBC, calling it “a risk to the rule of law.”

A Bureau of Prisons representative did not respond to requests for comment.

One of several former Trump aides charged in Mueller’s investigation, Manafort was convicted by a jury in Virginia in August 2018 on charges including tax fraud and bank fraud, and then pleaded guilty in a separate case the following month in Washington to conspiracy charges.

Manafort earned millions of dollars as an international political consultant to pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine and prosecution evidence showed he dodged more than $6 million in taxes by hiding income in offshore bank accounts.

Barr in March called on the Bureau of Prisons to expand use of home confinement due to the coronavirus threat.

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