Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Manafort Gets His Comeuppance With 7½ Years In Prison, New York Charges

The Russia scandal and its tentacles have been a severe test of America's justice system, and despite the endless efforts of Donald Trump and his henchmen to tip the scales the president's way, it has held up pretty well.  That was not the case when an antediluvian federal judge gave Robert Mueller's prosecutors the finger and Paul Manafort a metaphoric wrist slap of a prison sentence last week, so the sentencing Wednesday of Trump's former campaign manager by a second federal judge on a second even more serious set of charges was highly anticipated and closely watched.  
With the Caesar analogies flying fast and furious, District Judge T.S. Ellis, presiding over his Alexandria, Virginia courtroom as if it was a Roman coliseum, had blithely motored past the 19½ to 24 year sentencing guidelines for the financial crimes for which Manafort was found guilty after an August jury trial in sentencing him to a measly 47 months, with nine months subtracted for time served for witness tampering.    
District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, long praised for patience and fairness and presiding on the other side of the Potomac in the District of Columbia federal courthouse, was constrained to sentence Manafort to no more than 10 years on charges of conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of a plea deal to which he had agreed in September on the eve of his second trial. 
Never mind that Manafort, a once high-flying, ostrich skin coat-wearing uber lobbyist for despots the world over, had gone on to break the agreement in spectacular style. 
Jackson's hands were tied.  Never mind that Manafort continued to lie to the special counsel's prosecutors during more than 50 hours of interviews while one of his lawyers provided backchannel reports to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani about the scope of the questions prosecutors were asking him to aid in the president's defense.  Jacksons hands were tied.
For those of you keeping score at home, the hands-tied Jackson sentenced Manafort to 43 months -- or about 3½ years -- as with Ellis, less than had been expected, but not egregiously so.   
Although each charge carried a maximum of five years, Jackson noted that one count was closely tied to same bank and tax fraud scheme that Ellis had sentenced Manafort.  Under sentencing guidelines, she said, those punishments should largely overlap, not be piled on top of each other.  
Since Jackson's sentence will run consecutively, that  is after Ellis's considerably lighter-than-expected sentence, this effectively means that Manafort -- who turns 70 on April 1 -- still is looking at 7½ years in prison.  
"It is hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud and the amount of money involved,” Jackson said of Manafort, adding that "A significant portion of his career has been spent gaming the system." 
Jackson pushed back on defense attorneys' repeated assertions that Manafort was mere collateral damage in Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.  "This defendant is not public enemy number one, but he's also not a victim either," the judge said.  "There's no question this defendant knew better, and he knew exactly what he was doing." 
The question of whether anyone in the Trump campaign "conspired or colluded with" the Russian government "was not presented in this case," she added, so for Manafort's attorneys to emphasize that no such collusion was proven is "a non-sequitur." 
The day had an unexpected bonus, breathing new life into the old cliche that timing is everything. 
As Jackson was imposing her sentence, a New York State grand jury returned a 16-count indictment charging Manafort with mortgage fraud, falsifying business records and conspiracy.  If convicted, Trump would not be able to pardon Manafort on the state charges.
Before Jackson imposed sentence, wheelchair-bound Manafort apologized to "all those negatively affected by my actions" and acknowledged that he did not express such regret when sentenced by Ellis.  "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." 
Manafort said that nine months in solitary confinement after being jailed for witness tampering gave him "new self-awareness."  
The conspiracy charges stemmed from Manafort's secretive lobbying work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and 2016 election campaign contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime aide and suspected GRU-trained Russian spy that went "very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating," according to prosecutor Andrew Weissman at a February hearing before Jackson.         
Manafort's value as a cooperating witness who could provide prosecutors with an insider's account of links between Trump Tower and the Kremlin was not realized, but his many interactions with Kilimnik, who also has been indicted by Mueller, have been copiously detailed.   
In one of the instances in which prosecutors said Manafort broke his plea agreement, he lied about a meeting with Kilimnik and Rick Gates at an upscale Manhattan cigar bar on August 2, 2016 where he is believed to have shared with Kilimnik detailed campaign polling data to be used by Russian trolls in targeting voters through social media in the ongoing cyberesabotage of Hillary Clinton's campaign.  The men also discussed a so-called Ukrainian "peace plan," which was code for relief of crippling Obama administration-imposed Russia sanctions should Trump be elected.   
Gates, who was Trump's campaign deputy director, is a longtime Manafort associate.  He has been cooperating with prosecutors. 
Trump has been conspicuously silent recently about whether he will pardon Manafort on the federal charges, having variously said previously that he "wouldn't take it off the table" and "I don't even discuss it." 
But a pardon may not be worth the heat Trump would take with Mueller and newly empowered House Democrats bearing down on him through multiple investigations, his domestic and foreign agendas at a standstill, and signs of panic among the Republican faithful as an increasing number of people belatedly wake up to the reality that the president sold out America's interests to its greatest enemy. 
Speaking of the New York State charges, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said "No one is beyond the law in New York," adding that the charges "strike at the heart of New York's sovereign interests, including the integrity of our residential mortgage market."   
Manafort, who along with Gates had been indicted in October 2017, was Mueller's first big catch and highest-profile prosecution.   
His second sentencing effectively closes out one phase of a hydra-headed investigation and will heighten pressure on Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's cautionary words notwithstanding. 
The Mueller investigation still has a number of conspicuous loose ends, notably the possibility of a superseding indictment against dirty trickster Roger Stone, Trump's longest serving adviser, for conspiring with WikiLeaks and Russian trolls.   
Many pundits had declared Mueller's final report to Attorney General William Barr, was going to be out any day for sure.  That was three weeks ago.  The report will indeed be out for sure, but no one outside of the special counsel’s hermetically sealed investigation knows for sure when. 
Jackson gets the last word on Manafort's memorably bad day, having said something simple but profound at his sentencing, "If the people don't have the facts, democracy can't work."

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.


Bscharlott said...

Found on web: "In the federal system, prisoners who, in the judgment of the Bureau of Prisons, have exhibited 'exemplary compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations' can get up to 54 days per year off their sentences." Thus, counting time served, Manafort is likely looking at a little under six years (about 68 months, by my reckoning). That's a lot, coming mainly after age 70. Still, I think he was lucky, all told.

Also from web: "... Rule 35(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure ... [allows] a court to reduce a previously-imposed sentence based on 'substantial assistance' by a defendant provided after sentencing."

Thus, Manafort could theoretically still get a reduction in his sentence by cooperating, even now. But would he do so, given there's a light at the end of the six-year tunnel? Probably not. One reason I was hoping for a longer sentence was to make the 35(b) option seem more enticing. But I suppose Manafort would have remained silent nonetheless, given that Putin's thugs now kill even well-known targets outside of Russia.

Shaun Mullen said...


Thank you for the fine print, which really helps put things in context.

I believe that Manafort's cooperating days are over for the simple reason that there's nothing he could tell the feds that they don't already know.

While I wish no harm on anyone, least of all Trump because we wouldn't want him to go out a martyr, a Putin-ordered hit on Manafort, while not likely in my view, would backfire badly . . . on Trump.