The former chair of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort, has received his second sentence from U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington, D.C. Jackson sentenced Manafort to 73 months in prison with 30 months of the sentence running consecutively with his Virginia sentence. That would leave an addition of 43 months to run consecutively. That would extend his sentence to seven and a half years. In the federal system, there is an allowance for 15 percent good behavior (there is no parole) plus his time served (9 months). That could result in a release around November 2024.
The sentence ends the criminal process for Manafort except for his serving of the sentence and the possibility of a pardon from President Donald Trump. The sentencing was a critical moment not just for Manafort but Special Counsel Robert Mueller. I just wrote a column for USA Today on how this sentence would establish whether Mueller was played by Manafort. Since he was looking at roughly 35 years in both cases, this is still a light sentence outcome for Manafort.
Jackson allowed both sides to argue before her on the appropriate sentence. Notably, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann insisted that Manafort “undermined our political process,” even though these counts involve Manafort’s work for sinister Ukrainian figures. It seemed to be a reference to his work for foreign interests in the United States without registering as an agent.
The defense also argued that officials at the “highest levels” of the U.S. government knew of Manafort’s work and that the work continued without objection. That was a new argument and suggested that not only were these activities not clandestine but known. It was a strong performance by the defense that hit the critical points in trying to avoid a consecutive sentence and a maximum sentencing.
Manafort did speak and, unlike his statement in Virginia, Manafort did express remorse and said “I’m sorry for what I’ve done.” He explained that his earlier allocution was meant to express shame and remorse. He promised to live a new life and that he had learned his lesson. He also spoke of being left in solitary confinement and how his health has declined due to the harsh confinement. This was a very different allocution delivered with full contrition from Manafort in his wheelchair. He spoke of his age (approaching 70) and asked to be allowed to spend his final years with his wife.
Judge Jackson noted that there was no collusion established in this case — echoing the same statements out of Virginia. These charges are separate and distinct from any collusion allegation. She did note, in speaking directly to the defendant, that Manafort’s career has been strategic in his lying to the public. She said Manafort is “not victim number one” but someone who warranted his charges and sentencing. She noted that he pleaded guilty to conspiring to influence witnesses and expressly noted that this was done with Konstantin Kilimnik, a figure with Russian and Ukrainian intelligence connections. She also said that her description of his confinement was overblown and that he has continued to play with the facts. Prosecutors insist that he was not in true solitary confinement and was receiving many special privileges. The solitary confinement spin clearly blew back on Manafort.
The sentence follows a widely ridiculed sentencing by Judge T.S. Ellis Jr. in Virginia. Manafort was convicted by a jury in August of eight criminal charges — five counts of filing false tax returns, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failing to report foreign bank accounts. These were premeditated and long-standing criminal acts worth millions. Yet, Ellis gave Manafort less than four years in rejecting the recommendation of not just the Special Counsel but also the court probation officer.
Ellis previously raised eyebrows over his controversial comments and veiled criticism of the Special Counsel investigation. At the sentencing, this controversial record continued after said that Manafort led “an otherwise blameless life.” It is hard to see who Ellis was referring to unless Manafort has some sort of evil twin. Manafort has long been viewed as a dubious character in D.C. with shady clients and practices.
The second sentencing set the stage for the final drama in the Manafort case: whether Trump will pardon Manafort or, more likely, commute his sentence. The latter would allow Trump to say that Manafort has served almost a year already and would remain a felon. Nevertheless, the pardon would remain one of the most controversial in U.S. history. Trump could argue that the sentencing established that these crimes were not related to him and our collusion-related crimes. Thus, he could argue that Manafort’s health and his targeting by the Special Counsel warranted some form of clemency. In my view, the pardon would still be highly inappropriate and wrong. While I have previously written how presidential pardons are hardly a pristine record, there is no avoiding the fact that Manafort lost his plea agreement for failing to fully cooperate with a Special Counsel looking into the campaign and administration of President Trump.