“He’s lived an otherwise blameless life” should be memorialized on His Honor’s tombstone. Virginia Judge T. S. Ellis forever will be remembered in infamy for that sentiment, juxtaposed with Paul Manafort’s long career of traitorous work for dictators, serial tax evasion, and abundant, massive fraud. Legal experts were appalled by the light 47 months sentence, some calling it “absurdly low.” Sentencing guidelines called for between 19 ½ and 24 years. Many considered this to be a shocking bow to rich-white-guy privilege by rich-white-guy Judge Ellis. Then D.C. Judge Jackson spoke. Then New York state roared. (scroll down for full article)
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Yesterday, Paul Manafort attended his second sentencing hearing in five days, in a D.C. federal district court presided over by Judge Amy Berman Jackson (appointed in 2011 by President Obama). Paul’s first hearing, March 8, was under U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis in Virginia (Ronald Reagan appointee, 1987).
Round 1 — The Virginia Hearing
Judge Ellis gave Manafort 47 months in prison for eight financial felony convictions. Note that Manafort had another 10 counts left hanging in that trial (one holdout juror ignored the evidence because he thought the trial was a witch hunt). Paul later admitted guilt for these additional 10 crimes in a plea agreement. The judge said this, referring to the DOJ sentencing guidelines and Paul Manafort’s character:
“I think it’s excessive. He’s lived an otherwise blameless life.”
(Ellis, T. S., U.S. district court judge, Alexandria, Virginia; Paul Manafort sentencing hearing; 3/8/2019.)
“He’s lived an otherwise blameless life” should be memorialized on His Honor’s tombstone. Judge Ellis forever will be remembered in infamy for that sentiment, juxtaposed with Manafort’s long career of traitorous work for dictators, serial tax evasion, and abundant, massive fraud.
Legal experts were appalled, almost across the board, by the light sentence. The guidelines called for between 19 ½ and 24 years. Former U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade called the sentence “absurdly low.” Upon the announcement, collective gasps were emitted across the country. Many considered this less-than-four-year sentence to be a shocking bow to rich-white-guy privilege by rich-white-guy Judge Ellis.
“William Jefferson [was the African-American] Louisiana congressman in the infamous ‘cold cash’ case. Jefferson, nicknamed ‘Dollar Bill,’ was found by the FBI with $90,000 stashed in his freezer and was found guilty of leveraging his public office to solicit hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in West Africa. In 2009, Jefferson, now 71, received a sentence of 13 years from Judge T. S. Ellis. …
“The light sentence for Manafort … prompted a wave of commentary that he had been treated with particular indulgence because he was a wealthy, white male living in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. Jefferson is black and represented impoverished New Orleans.”
(Dunleavey, Jerry; “Lawyer for ‘Dollar Bill’ Corrupt Congressman Brands Judge as Biased Over Manafort Leniency”; Washington Examiner; 3/9/2019.)
There are more comparative examples.
Paul Manafort admitted to 18 felonies (including eight convictions by a jury). The special counsel’s office stated he had $16 million in unreported income, $55 million in illegally hidden foreign accounts, and $6 million in unpaid taxes. Rep. William Jefferson was convicted of 11 felonies and took a few hundred thousand dollars in bribes.
Being rich, Caucasian, and well-connected? Priceless.
Round 2 — The D.C. Hearing
Advocates for fair sentencing, and most of the rest of us, were counting on Judge Amy Berman Jackson in D.C. to make up for Ellis’ travesty of justice. Manafort was before Jackson for pleading guilty to undeclared pro-Russian Ukrainian lobbying, witness tampering, and lying to prosecutors. Though technically she wasn’t allowed to consider the previous judge’s sentence, we all hoped she would arrive at a term in the upper ranges of her guidelines, apparently coming in at a maximum of about 10 years in prison.
In a rule that makes no sense to me, she also could decide whether all or part of Manafort’s second sentence would run consecutively or concurrently with his first sentence. I don’t get it. Just make the sentence the sentence — and always run them consecutively. This option makes us little people suspicious of the system. The judiciary rules board, however, neglected to ask me.
These sentencing hearings have to meander their way through a process. The judge did not announce the first sentence until about three hours after the proceeding started. The second hearing followed suit.
The defense attorneys get to babble on about how their defendant — guilty of more than 20 felonies over the past decade or so — is actually a good guy. And there’s extenuating circumstances (he convinced Trump to hire him as his campaign manager). And the stress of committing all those crimes (and getting caught) has put him in poor health (he claims to have the gout). And he will be separated from his wife (prison will do that). And he’s actually a good guy. And there was no Russian collusion.
“Please let my wife and I be together. Please don’t take [me] away any longer than the 47 months. She needs me and I need her. This case has taken everything from me. Please let my wife and I be together.”
(Manafort, Paul; former 2016 Trump campaign chair; U.S. district court sentencing hearing; 3/13/2019.)
“[Manafort] apologized to ‘all those negatively affected by my actions,’ acknowledging that he did not express such regret when sentenced days ago by Judge T. S. Ellis III in Alexandria[, Virginia,] for bank and tax fraud.
“‘Let me be very clear: I accept responsibility for the actions that led me to be here today, and I want to apologize for all I contributed to the impacts on people and institutions. While I cannot change the past, I can work to change the future,’ Manafort said from a wheelchair, turning to face Jackson. ‘I want to say to you now, I am sorry for what I have done and for all of the activities that have gotten us here today.’ He added that nine months in solitary confinement after being jailed on charges of witness tampering gave him ‘new self-awareness.’ …
“Defense attorney Kevin M. Downing … said all sides have sought to spin Manafort’s predicament to their political advantage, adding, that ‘but for a short stint as campaign manager in a presidential election, I don’t think we would be here today. I think the court should consider that, too.’”
(Hsu, Spencer S. & Weiner, Rachel & Marimow, Ann E.; “Paul Manafort Is Sentenced to a Total of 7 ½ Years in Prison for Conspiracy and Fraud, and Charged With Mortgage Fraud in N.Y.”; The Washington Post; 3/13/2019.)
Then the prosecutors get to pile on, reminding everyone of the key points of their case, the trees that might have been lost in the forest:
“Prosecutors questioned whether Manafort was capable of changing, depicting him as a mastermind of a conspiracy in which he was paid $50 million over more than a decade by a Russian-backed politician and party in Ukraine, and Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. ‘His work was corrosive to faith in the political process, both in the United States and abroad,’ prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said. ‘He served to undermine, not promote, American ideals of honesty, transparency and playing by the rules.’
“Manafort’s attempt to cover up his crimes by asking witnesses to lie for him, Weissmann said, ‘is not reflective of somebody who has learned a harsh lesson. It is not a reflection of remorse. It is evidence that something is wrong with sort of a moral compass.’ Manafort led a sophisticated scheme ‘to avoid a duty all Americans have’ to pay their taxes, Weissmann said, hiding wealth in 30 foreign bank accounts containing more than $50 million for his work for the government of Ukraine and Deripaska.”
(Ibid.; Hsu, Weiner, & Marimow; 3/13/2019.)
Finally, the judge gets to review the entire arc of the crimes and judicial proceedings. She spent considerable time reciting the details of Manafort’s offenses. In her statements, Judge Jackson seemed to be laying the groundwork for an upper-range sentence:
“The defendant isn’t public enemy No. 1. But he’s not a victim either. … It is hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud and the extraordinary amount of money involved. …
“There’s no question this defendant knew better, and he knew exactly what he was doing. … A significant portion [of Mr. Manafort’s career has been] spent gaming the system. …
“He cheated the U.S. treasury out of $6 million. Why? Not to support a family, but to sustain a lifestyle at the most opulent and extravagant level possible. More houses than one family can enjoy. More suits than one man can wear. …
“This is not just about failing to comport with some pesky regulation, as the defense would make it out to be. … What you were doing was lying to members of Congress and the American public. If the people don’t have the facts, democracy can’t work. …
“The dissembling in this courtroom began with the bond proceedings and it never abated. …
“The [defense’s] sentencing memorandum has given me concern because he hasn’t really accepted responsibility for [the witness tampering] offense. While he agreed to plead guilty to this count, he backed away from the facts. … Was he spinning the facts beforehand to get a good deal or was he spinning them after to get a good deal? …
“[The witness tampering] appeared to reflect his ongoing contempt for and the belief that he had the right to manipulate these proceedings, and the court order did not apply to him. All of this was a problem for me because court is one of those places where facts still matter.”
(Jackson, Amy Berman, U.S. district court judge, District of Columbia; Paul Manafort sentencing hearing; 3/13/2019.)
Judge Jackson found Manafort’s faux contrition particularly galling, saying she thought he expressed it now only because he was chastised for not doing it at Judge Ellis’ sentencing hearing last week. She said she found the defendant’s sense of responsibility and remorse “completely absent.”
Judge Jackson’s Defense Smackdown
Throughout the court proceedings, Manafort’s team has indicated repeatedly that Paul was simply a victim of circumstances. His attorney repeated that contention at yesterday’s hearing: “But for a short stint as campaign manager in a presidential election, I don’t think we would be here today.”
Judge Jackson responded:
“Saying ‘I’m sorry I got caught’ is not an inspiring call for leniency. …
“The defendant’s insistence that none of this should be happening to him … is just one more thing that is inconsistent with the notion of any genuine acceptance of responsibility.”
(Ibid.; Judge Jackson; 3/13/2019.)
Manafort’s attorneys have harped that Paul was never shown to have colluded with Russians (which obviously has been for a White House audience of one). Judge Jackson addressed this specifically:
“The question of whether there was any collusion with Russia … was not presented in this case, period, therefore it was not resolved by this case. …
“The ‘no collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to the matters at hand. The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non sequitur. The ‘no collusion’ mantra is also not accurate, because the investigation is still ongoing. It’s not particularly persuasive to argue that an investigation hasn’t found anything when you lied to the investigators. …
“The office of special counsel proved beyond a preponderance of evidence that Mr. Manafort intentionally gave false testimony with respect to that matter which was one of several matters in regards to false statements with regard to Mr. Kilimnik.”
(Ibid.; Judge Jackson; 3/13/2019.)
This last statement refers to her determination in February that Mr. Manafort clearly lied to prosecutors about certain issues, which prompted the termination of his plea agreement and any associated benefits (including reduced sentencing considerations).
Judge Jackson found that Manafort lied about the following: 1) he denied conversations with Russian operative and former Manafort business partner Konstantin Kilimnik regarding a “Ukrainian peace plan,” which was code for U.S. recognition of Russia’s Crimean Peninsula annexation and lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia; 2) he denied he had transferred internal Trump campaign polling data to Kilimnik, to be delivered to two pro-Russia Ukrainian oligarchs; 3) he denied receiving a $125,000 contribution for legal expenses that was routed through a pro-Trump political action committee; and 4) he lied about information relevant to a still-as-yet-undisclosed DOJ investigation related to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
“In court on Wednesday, Manafort attorney Downing revealed that Manafort and Kilimnik were ‘communicating with senior State Department officials in Kiev,’ and noted that Mueller’s team has conceded that ‘the highest level of state department officials knew of his activities.’ Downing’s statement was the first time that detail was made public.”
(Singman, Brooke; “Paul Manafort Sentenced on Foreign Lobbying and Witness Tampering Charges”; FoxNews.com; 3/13/2019.)
And the Gout?
Apparently, Paul Manafort is now a physical wreck suffering from depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, high cholesterol — and gout. He claims the stress of solitary confinement has taken a toll on his health. You know how rough solitary confinement can be.
“A new filing by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team makes Manafort’s time behind bars seem … not quite so bad as that might make you think. …
— Manafort ‘is not confined to a cell.’
— Between 8:30 a.m. and 10 p.m., Manafort ‘has access to a separate workroom at the jail to meet with his attorneys and legal team.’
— He has ‘his own bathroom and shower facility.’
— He has ‘his own personal telephone,’ which he can use more than 12 hours a day.
— Those calls are limited to 15 minutes each, but when they cut off, he can just call the person back immediately.
— He’s made nearly 300 phone calls in the last three weeks.
— He has a personal laptop he can use in his unit to review materials and prepare for his trial.
— He was provided an extension cord to let him use his laptop in either his unit or his workroom.
— He’s not allowed to send emails, but he ‘has developed a workaround’ for even that — his legal team brings in a laptop, he drafts the emails on that laptop, and they send them out after they leave.
— He’s being treated like a ‘VIP,’ according to his own account on a monitored phone call.”
(Prokop, Andrew; “Paul Manafort’s Solitary Confinement Includes a Personal Laptop, Phone, Shower, and Workroom”; Vox; 7/11/2018.)
Round 3 — New York State
Most of those who pay attention to this stuff were mildly disappointed at Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s sentence of, effectively, an additional 43 months in prison on top of Judge Ellis’ 47 months. This comes out to seven-and-a-half years, minus nine months for time served, and minus approximately one year shaved off for good behavior: a net of about six years, nine months — if President Trump doesn’t pardon him.
But wait. Within minutes of Judge Jackson announcing Paul Manafort’s second federal sentence, New York state puffed up its chest and popped a few buttons on its vest:
“Paul J. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, has been charged in New York with mortgage fraud and more than a dozen other state felonies, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said Wednesday, an effort to ensure he will still face prison time if Mr. Trump pardons him for his federal crimes.
“News of the indictment came shortly after Mr. Manafort was sentenced to his second federal prison term in two weeks; he now faces a combined sentence of more than seven years for tax and bank fraud and conspiracy in two related cases brought by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. The president has broad power to issue pardons for federal crimes, but has no such authority in state cases. …
“The new state charges against Mr. Manafort are contained in a 16-count indictment that alleges a yearlong scheme in which he falsified business records to obtain millions of dollars in loans, Mr. Vance said in a news release after the federal sentencing. ‘No one is beyond the law in New York,’ he said, adding that the investigation by the prosecutors in his office had ‘yielded serious criminal charges for which the defendant has not been held accountable.’”
(Rashbaum, William K.; “New York Charges Paul Manafort With 16 Crimes. If He’s Convicted, Trump Can’t Pardon Him.”; The New York Times; 3/13/2019.)
Start spreadin’ the news. ■
Trump Corruption Chronicles — We Must Never Forget