Paul Manafort Learns His Fate, For Now

Paul Manafort was sentenced for a second time in a week on Wednesday. Last Thursday evening, in Alexandria, Virginia, the former Trump campaign chairman was given an absurdly lenient punishment of 47 months in prison. An additional 43 months have now been tacked on to that by Judge Amy Berman Jackson in a Washington D.C. courthouse. All together, it adds up to seven and a half years of incarceration, minus the nine months that Manafort has already served. If he isn’t criminally pardoned by the president and doesn’t get any time off for good behavior, he should be a free man in 2025. At that point, he will be 76 years old.

Of course, it probably won’t turn out that way. For one thing, it’s unlikely that he’ll serve his full term for these charges. For another, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office almost immediately announced that they’re bringing their own charges against Manafort. It was reported in late February that they were preparing a case, but the suggestion then was that it would only be filed if President Trump issued a pardon. The president’s pardon authority does not extend to non-federal crimes. It appears that New York County district Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has indicted Manafort on “16 counts tied to residential mortgage fraud and conspiracy.” Presumably, there is no issue of doubly jeopardy if the crimes charged in New York are limited to crimes against the Empire State.

Judge Jackson had some harsh words for Manafort during the sentencing proceeding. She also sent a message to the president’s spinmeisters.

The question of whether anyone in the Trump campaign “conspired or colluded with” the Russian government “was not presented in this case,” she said, so for Manafort’s attorneys to emphasize that no such collusion was proven, she said, is “a non-sequitur.”

“Non sequitur” is a Latin term that Trump’s mouth-breathing supporters can look up in a dictionary. It means that one thing does not follow from another, or that they are not in sequence. Whether they understand the terminology or not, they will have a hard time convincing people that Manafort received an unjustly harsh punishment in these federal cases. He was facing nearly 35 years in prison and he got less than eight. The leniency will enrage many Americans but it will also raise the cost of issuing Manafort a pardon. A pardon can’t be justified based on  unduly harsh sentences, although Trump might refer to Judge Ellis’ inexplicable remark that Manafort had lived “an otherwise blameless life.”

More likely, he’ll try to portray Manhattan’s action as evidence that Manafort is the victim of a political vendetta. That’s why is was supposed to be a back-up plan that would be implemented after a pardon. Reversing the order makes a pardon more likely, although it also could assure that Manafort doesn’t go free immediately after the polls close in November 2020.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.