In what is being seen as a slap to special counsel Robert Mueller and the entire investigation against President Trump, a federal judged sentenced Paul Manafort to just four years in prison. The sentence defies a demand by Mueller for a much harsher sentence of 19 to 24 years. With time already served, Manafort will serve just 38 of the 47 months.
District Judge T.S. Ellis called Mueller’s recommended sentence “excessive” and imposed the surprisingly lenient 47-month sentence on Manafort, 69, during a hearing in Alexandria, Virginia. The sentence was even less than the one recommended by Manafort’s lawyers and surprised legal experts.
“This is a tremendous defeat for the special counsel’s office,” former federal prosecutor David Weinstein said.
Manafort’s sentence was less than half of what people who plead guilty and cooperate with the government typically get in similar cases, according to Mark Allenbaugh, a former attorney with the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
“Very shocking,” Allenbaugh said.
Political observers have wondered if the sentencing would reflect a general turn against the special council’s office, and the Democrat Congress, by a public and court system that say have become partisan, political and vindictive. They’re referring, of course, to President Trump–a political figure they see as being targeted for no other reason that he won a surprising election against prevailing political wisdom and media expectations.
Ellis also ordered Manafort to pay a fine of $50,000 and restitution of just over $24 million.
At the hearing, Manafort asked for mercy but expressed no remorse for his actions. He was convicted by a jury last August of tax fraud, bank fraud, and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.
Manafort, brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair because of a condition called gout, listened during the hearing as Ellis extolled his “otherwise blameless” life in which he “earned the admiration of a number of people” and engaged in “a lot of good things.”
“Clearly the guidelines were way out of whack on this,” Ellis said.
Manafort was convicted as part of the special counsel’s investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mueller did not accuse Manafort–or anyone else–of colluding with Russia.
In another rebuke to the special counsel’s office, and perhaps the media, Judge Ellis noted that Manafort “is not before the court for any allegations that he, or anyone at his direction, colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.”
Ellis, appointed to the bench by Republican former President Ronald Reagan, called the sentence “sufficiently punitive,” and noted that Manafort’s time already served would be subtracted from the 47 months. Manafort has been jailed since June 2018.
Manafort’s legal troubles are not over. He faces sentencing next Wednesday in Washington in a separate case for two conspiracy charges involving lobbying and money laundering to which he pleaded guilty last September.
Legal experts said the light sentence from Ellis could prompt U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, a Democrat, to impose a sentence closer to the maximum of 10 years in the Washington case, and order that the sentence run after the current one is completed rather than concurrently. Jackson was appointed by Democratic former President Barack Obama.
During the trial, Ellis repeatedly interrupted prosecutors, telling them to stop using the word “oligarch” to describe people associated with Manafort because it made him seem “despicable,” and objected to pictures of Manafort’s luxury items they planned to show jurors.
“It isn’t a crime to have a lot of money and be profligate in your spending,” Ellis told prosecutors during the trial.
“There’s absolutely no evidence that Paul Manafort was involved with any collusion with any government official from Russia,” Kevin Downing, another Manafort lawyer, said outside the courthouse.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said after the sentencing, “I believe Manafort has been disproportionately harassed and hopefully soon there will be an investigation of the overzealous prosecutorial intimidation so it doesn’t happen again.”
Manafort worked for Trump’s campaign for just five months in 2016.