Alexandria, Mar 8 (AP/UNB) — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced Thursday 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.
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.
Before Judge T.S. Ellis III 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 Manafort was being prosecuted only to pressure him to "sing" against Trump. Prosecutors said the Manafort investigation preceded Mueller's appointment.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani echoed the defense argument Thursday night, saying: "I feel terrible about the way Manafort has been treated to this point. I think it's not American to keep a man in solitary confinement to try to crack him."
Giuliani said he hadn't spoken to the president about Manafort's sentence.
Manafort was convicted of 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.
Washington, Mar 8(AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he's a "little disappointed" by reports of new activity at a North Korean missile research center and long-range rocket site and that time will tell if U.S. diplomacy with the reclusive country will be successful.
South Korea's military said it is carefully monitoring North Korean nuclear and missile facilities after the country's spy agency told lawmakers that new activity was detected at a research center where the North is believed to build long-range missiles targeting the U.S. mainland.
Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said the U.S. and South Korean militaries are sharing intelligence over the developments at the North's missile research center in Sanumdong on the outskirts of the capital, Pyongyang, and at a separate long-range rocket site. She did not elaborate on what the developments were.
Asked if he was disappointed in the new activity, Trump told reporters at the White House that he was "a little disappointed." Then he said time will determine the future of U.S. efforts to get North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to give up his pursuit of nuclear weapons in exchange for relief from sanctions stalling economic growth.
"We'll let you know in about a year," Trump told the reporters.
Briefing reporters at the State Department later, a senior U.S. official said that despite the new activity and the failure of last month's Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi to reach a denuclearization deal, the administration still believes it can reach and implement an agreement by the end of the president's first term. The official said it is important that progress be made quickly but that the goal is "achievable" by January 2021.
The official said that the U.S. is still trying to determine exactly what North Korea is doing with recent activity but that the administration will seek clarification from the North as well as intelligence analysts. The official said the Trump administration did not necessarily agree with nongovernmental analysts who believe the activity is a sign of North Korean anger following the summit. The official was not authorized to speak publicly to the state of negotiations with the North Koreans and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump said on Wednesday that his relationship with Kim remained "good" even though Trump walked away from negotiations at their high-profile meeting in Vietnam, saying the North's concessions on its nuclear program weren't enough to warrant sanctions relief.
Trump has favored direct talks with Kim, but the next stage of negotiations is likely to be conducted at lower levels. Trump's envoy to North Korea, Steve Biegun, had lunch Wednesday at the State Department with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea. The South Koreans have proposed semiofficial three-way talks with the United States and North Korea as it works to put nuclear diplomacy back on track.
Suh Hoon, the director of South Korea's National Intelligence Service, told his nation's lawmakers in Seoul that North Korea was restoring facilities at a rocket launch site it had dismantled last year in a goodwill measure.
Meanwhile, 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea studies, said commercial satellite imagery indicates the rebuilding started between Feb. 16 and March 2. And the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, issued another report saying satellite imagery taken Saturday — just two days after the summit ended — showed North Korea "pursuing a rapid rebuilding" of the Sohae Satellite Launch Site.
Some analysts think the work is a signal that Kim is getting ready to conduct more tests, but others suggest he's just registering his disappointment that no agreement was reached at the summit. Trump himself added to the confusion, saying his administration had a hand in the report on Sohae being made public.
"It's a very early report. We're the ones that put it out," Trump said without elaborating.
Joel Wit, a North Korea proliferation expert who helped negotiate with North Korea in the mid-1990s, said the new work at Sohae is Kim's way of showing that he's "getting impatient with lack of progress in negotiations."
"We have to watch to see what else happens," Wit said. "It's a space launch facility and has been used to send satellites into space. ... Problem is, some of the technologies are the same."
He said there is no evidence that North Korea's work at the site signals Kim is preparing to test another intercontinental missile. He said North Korea has never tested an ICBM at Sohae. "Preparations for any launch would require a wide range of activities not observed at the site," Wit said.
Trump and Kim, who also met in Singapore last year, have not said if there will be a third summit. For now, discussions with North Korea will be conducted by their subordinates. Biegun, the U.S. envoy to North Korea, gave members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a classified update Tuesday afternoon on Capitol Hill.
Committee Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said that Biegun has a vision of where the U.S. wants to take the talks and that progress was made in Vietnam.
There's no framework agreement "to put the details on it yet," he said. But he added: "The differences have been narrowed."
Less upbeat, Committee member Edward Markey, D-Mass., said he's worried that future satellite launches at Sohae could help Kim further his work on ballistic missiles to threaten the U.S. and its allies with a nuclear attack.
"President Trump never codified in writing North Korea's missile and nuclear testing freeze," Markey said. "Without that formal commitment, North Korea might claim it is doing nothing wrong and derail the fragile diplomatic process underway."
Las Vegas Mar 6 (AP/UNB) — Entrepreneur Elon Musk's dream of an express tunnel transit system could finally become a reality in Las Vegas after major setbacks in other cities.
Las Vegas' tourism agency announced Wednesday it is recommending that an enterprise backed by the divisive billionaire receive a contract to build and operate an underground tunnel system through which autonomous electric vehicles would whisk people around a mega convention center, and in the future, possibly the city's famous casino-filled corridor.
If approved, the system of just over a mile long would debut by January 2021 at the facility, which hosts more than 1 million people every year. The Musk-owned The Boring Company would build the project costing from $35 million to $55 million.
It's different from his beleaguered efforts to build underground tunnel systems in other cities because Musk will be paid for it if the contract is approved. Projects in Los Angeles and Chicago have drawn opposition and skepticism from residents and officials about whether they will actually open.
Musk has faced recent blowback because of his behavior and tweeting habits. He has had dust-ups with stock market regulators and agreed last year to step down as chairman of the board of Tesla, his electric car company.
But Las Vegas tourism officials are ready to get on board with a Musk project.
"It's really innovative. I think it will be an attraction in and of itself, frankly," Steve Hill, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, told The Associated Press.
Details of the project have not been finalized. But Hill said the system will probably have three or four stations, each situated at entrances to the convention center's halls. People would be carried to the hall of their choice in electric vehicles moving through parallel tunnels, each running in one direction.
The fleet could include Tesla's Model X and Model 3 and a vehicle with capacity for about 16 people, Hill said. All vehicles would be fully autonomous, meaning they won't have backup human drivers.
The Las Vegas Convention Center, which attracts worldwide gatherings including the premier Consumer Electronics Show, is undergoing an expansion. When finished, convention attendees could log about two miles walking from one end to the other. The distance led officials to look for a transportation solution.
The service within the convention center is expected to be free for people attending events.
The convention center is operated by the authority, which is funded by a county room tax and is responsible for promoting the destination around the world. The tourism agency is governed by a board of directors.
The authority is expected to present to the board the recommendation to select Musk's company March 12. If approved, Hill said the agency hopes to return to the board with a full design and proposed contract by June.
Musk in December unveiled a test tunnel built under a Los Angeles suburb, allowing reporters and guests to take rides. It came almost two years to the day after Musk announced on Twitter that "traffic is driving me nuts" and he was "going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging."
"I am actually going to do this," he added in response to initial skepticism. Soon after, he began The Boring Company, tongue in cheek intentional.
The skepticism has not subsided. The Boring Company in November canceled its plans for another test tunnel in the Los Angeles area after a neighborhood group filed a lawsuit over concerns about traffic and disruptions from trucks hauling out dirt during the boring process.
Now plans for a project in Chicago appear to be in jeopardy. Neither mayoral candidate approves of plans announced in June that called for a system similar to the one proposed for Las Vegas. It would carry people between Chicago's downtown and O'Hare International Airport at speeds of up to 150 mph through underground tunnels.
Hill said he does not expect permitting processes in the Las Vegas area to put the project behind schedule should it be approved, because the city is "committed to innovation."
"Look at everything that we have built in Las Vegas, and this city and everybody who has built it found ways to make that happen," he said. "As long as this continues to make sense, I believe that we will figure out how to make it happen."
Hill acknowledged the technology that will be used in the project has not been used commercially, but he said the company has the talent to make the project a reality.
The confidence in The Boring Company is such that the authority already has optional routes for the tunnel system to expand to connect to the Las Vegas Strip, the city's downtown and McCarran International Airport. An expansion of that magnitude could be a solution to the congestion affecting the Strip and nearby areas.
"We do see it as a real opportunity and something we would like to pursue," Hill said.
Steve Davis, president of The Boring Company, said the speed at which the vehicles will move inside the convention center's tunnels will depend on the number of stations built. The technology involved in the project is being tested every day in the tunnel in Hawthorne, California, he said.
The company believes it will be able to deliver the project by the 2021 deadline, just before that year's edition of the CES tech gadget gathering. It is also eyeing the expansion possibility.
"If the community likes it, and they come, they ride at the convention center and they say 'This is great. It's comfortable. It's fast. It's awesome.' Well, there are other places it can go," Davis said.
Washington, Mar 5 (AP/UNB) — Hillary Clinton says she won't run for president in 2020, but vows she's "not going anywhere."
The former secretary of state, senator and first lady ruled out another campaign during an interview posted Monday by New York TV station News12 .
Clinton, who lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, says, "I'm going to keep on working and speaking and standing up for what I believe."
She says, "What's at stake in our country, the kind of things that are happening right now are deeply troubling to me."
She says she has spoken with several of the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, and has told them, "Don't take anything for granted, even though we have a long list of real problems and broken promises" from the Trump administration.
Beauregard, Mar 4 (AP/UNB) — Rescuers prepared Monday to tear through the rubble of mobile homes and houses in search of survivors of a powerful tornado that rampaged through southeast Alabama and killed at least 23 people.
The trail of destruction was at least half a mile wide and overwhelmed rural Lee County's coroners' office, forcing it to call in help from the state.
"The devastation is incredible," Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said.
Drones flying overheard equipped with heat-seeking devices had scanned the area for survivors, but the dangerous conditions halted the search late Sunday, Sheriff Jones said. Rescuers planned to resume the search at daylight Monday.
The Sunday tornado was part of a powerful storm system that also slashed its way across parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.
Levi Baker, who lives near the hard-hit area in Alabama, took a chain saw to help clear a path for ambulances and other first-responder vehicles. He said some houses were demolished and trees were uprooted or snapped in half. One house was swept off its foundation and was sitting in the middle of the road.
"It was just destruction," Baker said. "There were mobile homes gone. Frames on the other side of the road."
Jones said the twister traveled straight down a county road in the rural community of Beauregard reducing homes to slabs.
The National Weather Service confirmed late Sunday a tornado with at least an F3 rating caused the destruction in Alabama. Although the statement did not give exact wind estimates, F3 storms typically are gauged at wind speeds of between 158-206 mph (254-331 kph).
After nightfall Sunday, the rain had stopped and pieces of metal debris and tree branches littered roadways in Beauregard. Two sheriff's vehicles blocked reporters and others from reaching the worst-hit area. Power appeared to be out in many places.
In a tweet late Sunday, President Donald Trump said: "To the great people of Alabama and surrounding areas: Please be careful and safe. Tornadoes and storms were truly violent and more could be coming. To the families and friends of the victims, and to the injured, God bless you all!"
Rita Smith, spokeswoman for the Lee County Emergency Management Agency, said about 150 first responders had quickly jumped in to help search the debris after the storm struck in Beauregard. At least one trained canine could be seen with search crews as numerous ambulances and emergency vehicles, lights flashing, converged on the area.
No deaths had been reported Sunday evening from storm-damaged Alabama counties other than Lee County, said Gregory Robinson, spokesman for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. But he said crews were still surveying damage in several counties in the southwestern part of the state.
Numerous tornado warnings were posted across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina on Sunday afternoon as the storm system raced across the region. Weather officials said they confirmed other tornadoes around the region by radar alone and would send teams out Monday to assess those and other storms.
In rural Talbotton, Georgia, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) south of Atlanta, a handful of people were injured by either powerful straight-line winds or a tornado that destroyed several mobile homes and damaged other buildings, said Leigh Ann Erenheim, director of the Talbot County Emergency Management Agency.
News footage showed smashed buildings with rooftops blown away, cars overturned and debris everywhere. Trees all around had been snapped bare of branches.
"The last check I had was between six and eight injuries," Erenheim said in a phone interview. "From what I understand it was minor injuries, though one fellow did say his leg might be broken."
She said searches of damaged homes and structures had turned up no serious injuries or deaths there.
Henry Wilson of the Peach County Emergency Management Agency near Macon in central Georgia said a barn had been destroyed and trees and power poles had been snapped, leaving many in the area without power.
Authorities in southwest Georgia were searching door-to-door in darkened neighborhoods after a possible tornado touched down in the rural city of Cairo, about 33 miles (53 kilometers) north of Tallahassee, Florida, on Sunday evening. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
Authorities said a tornado was confirmed by radar in the Florida Panhandle late Sunday afternoon. A portion of Interstate 10 on the Panhandle was blocked in one direction for a time in Walton County in the aftermath, said Don Harrigan, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.