By MICHAEL BALSAMO | May 13, 2020 at 8:58 AM EDT – Updated May 13 at 11:09 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) — Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s onetime 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 the coronavirus, his lawyer said Wednesday.
Manafort, 71, was let out Wednesday morning from FCI Loretto, a low-security prison in Pennsylvania, according to his attorney, Todd Blanche. Manafort, jailed since June 2018, had been serving more than seven years in prison following his conviction.
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 6 feet (1.8 meters) 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.
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 him 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 with 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 such as Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and lawyer Michael Avenatti, who rose to fame representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against Trump, have been told they are getting out.
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 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.
The bureau has given contradictory and confusing guidance how it is deciding who is released to home confinement in an effort to combat the virus, changing requirements, setting up inmates for release and backing off and refusing to explain how it decides who gets out and when.
Attorney General William Barr ordered the agenc y 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 to be charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which examined possible coordination 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.
While Manafort had not served long enough to be eligible for release under the guidelines, the Bureau of Prisons decided to use its discretion to release him because of his “age and vulnerability of the inmate due to underlying health issues,” a person familiar with the matter said. The agency had the “discretion to deviate from the sentencing thresholds under certain circumstances” and has done so in other cases.
Officials at the bureau, which is part of the Justice Department, made the decision on Manafort, and no one from the Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington was involved, said the person, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Manafort’s release was first reported by ABC News.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington and Michael R. Sisak in New York contributed to this report.
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