Manafort sought judicial compassion. On Thursday, he got it.
Judge T.S. Ellis III on Thursday gave Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, a notably light prison sentence of less than four years, confounding experts and those who practice regularly in the federal courts.
Mr. Manafort, convicted last summer on charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and related criminality uncovered by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, faced 19 to 24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
The leniency shown by Judge Ellis, of the Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., toward Mr. Manafort carries the whiff of miscarriage of justice, especially given how the criminal justice system routinely treats people without Mr. Manafort’s wealth, influence or skin color.
.. But if the failed war on drugs and the era of mass incarceration have taught us anything, it is that there are two tracks of justice: one for those who can afford expensive defense counsel and who can move heaven and earth to receive mercy, and one for everyone else. People like Mr. Manafort, when caught cheating taxpayers of millions of dollars, receive discretion and kid-glove treatment, while drug dealers and less sophisticated defendants — in Judge Ellis’s courtroom and elsewhere — are subject to draconian mandatory minimum sentences.
.. During a revealing moment early in Thursday’s hearing, Judge Ellis said Mr. Manafort was “not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government to influence this election.” This is true. But collusion, as Judge Ellis surely knows, is not a federal crime, and it is not mentioned in the appointment order that gave Mr. Mueller his mandate in May 2017. Rather, it’s a term of art that Mr. Trump and his defenders have abused to misdirect the public about the true nature of the special counsel investigation.
.. “Manafort’s criminal conduct was serious, longstanding, and bold,” Mr. Mueller’s team told Judge Ellis in a sentencing submission filed last month. “He failed to pay taxes in five successive years involving more than $16 million in unreported income — and failed to identify his overseas accounts in those same returns — resulting in more than $6 million in unpaid taxes.”
To federal prosecutors, Mr. Manafort “benefited from the protections and privileges of the law and the services of his government, while cheating it and his fellow citizens.”.. “Manafort’s effort to shift the blame to others — as he did at trial — is not consistent with acceptance of responsibility or a mitigating factor,” prosecutors wrote.
Amid the furor, including from former judges, over Judge Ellis’s apparent lack of impartiality during the Manafort trial last year, I was among those who gave him the benefit of the doubt. Judges often play hardball with prosecutors and defense lawyers, my thinking went, and Judge Ellis had already recognized, in declining to toss out Mr. Mueller’s indictment against Mr. Manafort ahead of trial, that the charges “clearly arise out of the special counsel’s investigation into thepayments defendant allegedly received from Russian-backed leaders and pro-Russian political officials.”
Mr. Manafort has shown no contrition for his misdeeds, or for his recalcitrance since the special counsel first charged him. And Judge Ellis ignored all that, doing a disservice to justice.
The judge’s mercy may be the closest Mr. Manafort will get to a presidential pardon. But that may not keep him from begging for one. Mr. Trump, who has praised Mr. Manafort as a “brave man” and lamented that his own Justice Department had charged Mr. Manafort with tax crimes that were only peripheral to the Russia investigation, has refused to rule it out.