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Paul Manafort released from prison due to coronavirus concerns

Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington in 2017.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

Paul Manafort, President Trump’s onetime campaign chairman who was convicted as part of the special counsel’s Russia investigation, has been released from federal prison to serve the rest of his sentence in home confinement because of concerns about the coronavirus, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Manafort, 71, was released Wednesday morning from a low-security federal prison in Loretto, Penn., according to his attorney Todd Blanche. Manafort was sentenced last year to more than seven years in prison. He had been in jail since June 2018.

His release comes as prison advocates and congressional leaders have been pressing the Justice Department for weeks to release at-risk inmates before a potential outbreak in the system. They argue that social distancing is nearly impossible behind bars.

But Manafort did not meet qualifications set by the Bureau of Prisons for potential release in the pandemic, and the bureau did not answer questions about why Manafort was freed.

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Under the bureau’s guidelines, priority is supposed to be given to those inmates who have served half of their sentence or inmates with 18 months or less left and who served at least 25% of their time. The bureau has discretion about who can be released.

His lawyers had asked the Bureau of Prisons to release Manafort to home confinement, arguing that he was at high risk for coronavirus because of his age and preexisting medical conditions. Manafort was hospitalized in December after suffering from a heart-related condition, two people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press at the time. They were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Other high-profile inmates, including Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, and Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who rose to fame representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against Trump, have been told they will be released.

Kathy Hawk Sawyer, a senior advisor at the Bureau of Prisons who formerly led the agency, said in an interview in late April that to “suggest that we are only identifying high-profile, white-collar inmates for home confinement, is absurd.”

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Manafort was among the first people to be charged in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, which examined possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia before the 2016 election.

Manafort, who was prosecuted in two federal courts, was convicted by a jury in federal court in Virginia in 2018 and later pleaded guilty in Washington. He was sentenced last March and was immediately hit with state charges in New York of giving false information on a mortgage loan application.

Manafort’s release comes as prison advocates and congressional leaders have been pressing the Justice Department for weeks to release at-risk inmates ahead of a potential outbreak. They argue that the public health guidance to stay six feet away from other people is especially difficult to enforce.

Atty. Gen. William Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons in March and April to increase the use of home confinement and expedite the release of eligible high-risk inmates, beginning at three prisons identified as coronavirus hot spots. There are no confirmed coronavirus cases at the Loretto prison.

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As of Tuesday, 2,818 federal inmates and 262 bureau staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 at federal prisons across the country. Fifty inmates had died.

Last week, the U.S. prison in Lompoc, Calif., took over the unwelcome distinction of having the largest federal penitentiary outbreak in the nation, surpassing a facility on Terminal Island in San Pedro.

The bureau has given contradictory and confusing guidance about how it is deciding who is released to home confinement, changing requirements, setting up inmates for release and backing off, and refusing to explain how it decides who gets out and when.

An agency spokeswoman said more than 2,400 inmates have been moved to home confinement since March 26, and more than 1,200 others have been approved and are in the pipeline to be released.

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Manafort’s release was first reported by ABC News.


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