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Former Trump aide Paul Manafort released from prison due to virus concerns

Manafort had been serving more than seven years in prison following his conviction.

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Paul Manafort (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Paul Manafort (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Paul Manafort (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former presidential 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 due to concerns about coronavirus, his lawyer said.

The 71-year-old was released from FCI Loretto, a low-security prison in Pennsylvania, according to his lawyer Todd Blanche.

Manafort had been serving more than seven years in prison following his conviction.

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Donald Trump (Alex Brandon/AP)

Donald Trump (Alex Brandon/AP)

AP/PA Images

Donald Trump (Alex Brandon/AP)

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 the public health guidance to stay 6ft away from other people 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 he was freed.

Under the bureau’s guidelines, priority is supposed to be given to inmates who have served half of their sentence or inmates with 18 months or less left who have 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 him to home confinement, arguing that he was at high risk for coronavirus because of his age and pre-existing medical conditions. Manafort was admitted to hospital in December with a heart-related condition, sources said.

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

Kathy Hawk Sawyer, a senior adviser 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”.

A Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman said more than 2,400 inmates have been moved to home confinement since March 26, when attorney general William Barr first issued a home confinement memo, and more than 1,200 others have been approved and are in the pipeline to be released. But prisons officials will not give out any demographic information.

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Paul Manafort in court in New York (Seth Wenig/AP)

Paul Manafort in court in New York (Seth Wenig/AP)

AP/PA Images

Paul Manafort in court in New York (Seth Wenig/AP)

The bureau has given contradictory and confusing guidance on 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.

Mr Barr ordered the agency 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 FCI Loretto.

As of Tuesday, 2,818 federal inmates and 262 BOP staff members had positive test results for Covid-19 at federal prisons across the country. Fifty inmates had died.

Manafort was among the first people charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which examined possible co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election campaign.

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 after prosecutors accused him of giving false information on a mortgage loan application.

A New York judge threw out state mortgage fraud charges, ruling that the criminal case was too similar to one that already landed Manafort in prison. Prosecutors have pledged to appeal.

PA