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.
Federal prosecutors on Saturday portrayed Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, as a hardened, remorseless criminal who “repeatedly and brazenly” violated a host of laws over more than a decade and did not deserve any breaks when he is sentenced in coming weeks.
The prosecutors’ sentencing memo, filed in one of the most high-profile cases mounted by the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and unsealed on Saturday, painted a damning portrait of Mr. Manafort, 69, a political consultant who led Mr. Trump’s campaign during a critical five-month period in 2016.
The memo involved one of two federal cases against Mr. Manafort. Prosecutors did not recommend a sentence, instead citing sentencing guidelines of up to 22 years for a wide-ranging conspiracy involving obstruction of justice, money laundering, hidden overseas bank accounts and false statements to the Justice Department. But the two charges Mr. Manafort pleaded guilty to in the case carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
.. Over all, the prosecutors said, Mr. Manafort’s behavior “reflects a hardened adherence to committing crimes and lack of remorse.” Despite his age, they said he “presents a grave risk of recidivism.” They noted that under advisory sentencing guidelines, Mr. Manafort would face a sentence of 17 to 22 years.
.. The prosecutors reached far back into Mr. Manafort’s career in their efforts to portray him as a calculating lawbreaker. They noted that the Justice Department first warned him in 1986 about flouting the lobbying law known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.
At the time, Mr. Manafort was a director of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation under President Ronald Reagan, and he was faced with a choice: “either resign his political appointment” or “cease all his activities on behalf of foreign principals,” according to the filing.
He chose to resign.
But the prosecutors said that “in spite of these clear warnings and the personal ramifications to him for not adhering to the law, Manafort chose to violate the FARA statute and to get others to as well” in his Ukrainian lobbying.
Mr. Mueller’s team also made no recommendation on whether Mr. Manafort’s sentence in the Washington case should run concurrently with his sentence in the Virginia case. After a lengthy trial in Alexandria, Va., in August, a jury convicted Mr. Manafort of eight felonies including tax fraud and bank fraud — crimes prosecutors said Mr. Manafort committed “for no other reason than greed.”
Sentencing guidelines in that case would call for a prison term of 19 to 24 years.
The order of his sentencing dates may work against Mr. Manafort. He is scheduled to be sentenced first for the financial crimes by Judge T. S. Ellis III of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, and then by Judge Jackson in Washington.
Some allies of Mr. Manafort had hoped that Judge Ellis would have the last word because he seemed more sympathetic to the defense than Judge Jackson, and he might order the sentences to run concurrently.
prosecutors charged that his personal fortune was propped up by years of lies to tax authorities and banks.
.. “A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye told the jury. “Not tax law, not banking law.”
.. The defense, in rebuttal, said that Manafort was a victim of the deceptions of his former partner, now a government witness, and that any failure to pay taxes was inadvertent.
.. Manafort faces 18 charges of financial fraud, as prosecutors say he failed to pay taxes on some of the millions of dollars he made working as a strategist for a political party in Ukraine, and then lied to banks to get loans when those payments stopped.
.. Manafort collected more than $60 million between 2010 and 2014 from his Ukraine work, where President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of the Kremlin
.. When Yanukovych had to flee Ukraine for Russia in 2014, Manafort’s “cash spigot” was shut off, the prosecutor said, and the political strategist set out to generate money by lying to banks on loan applications.
.. Asonye’s efforts to paint Manafort as a free-spending tax cheat were interrupted more than once by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who noted “it isn’t a crime to be profligate in your spending.”
.. The prosecutor said the charges boil down to “one simple issue: Paul Manafort lied.”
.. Manafort’s defense lawyer Thomas Zehnle said the case was about “taxes and trust,” and that the real liar was not Manafort, but his former right-hand man, Rick Gates.
.. “Mr. Manafort placed his trust in the wrong person,” Zehnle said, arguing that his client built “one of the most successful political consulting and government relations shops in Washington,” while also working on “the global stage.”
.. Zehnle said Manafort’s work for Yanukovych was to “bring the country closer to Western democracies after decades of Soviet rule” — toward the European Union and away from Russia. That comment was met with audible sneers from a few members of the gallery. Protests in Ukraine were first triggered in late 2013 by Yanukovych’s decision to not sign an E.U. association agreement, an embrace of the West that Russia opposed.
.. Zehnle said Manafort also never intentionally deceived the IRS about his income and that his client made mistakes, not realizing he needed to file certain forms and make certain declarations.
“This is not a case where someone flew to Switzerland and stashed money in an account,” Zehnle said. The lawyer also said that earlier in the investigation, Manafort willingly sat down with FBI agents investigating the misuse of funds in Ukraine
.. Manafort’s defense strategy appears aimed at the credibility of Gates, the star witness against him, by accusing Manafort’s onetime protege and partner of embezzling millions of dollars.
“Rick Gates had his hand in the cookie jar, and he couldn’t take the risk that his boss might find out,” Zehnle said. He said Gates prevented other people involved in Manafort’s finances — accountants and bookkeepers — from sharing information about the accounts with each other.
.. Manafort had hired great people, he said, and had “substantial resources. . . . I was really impressed by him.”
Devine said Yanukovych won the presidency in 2010 because of the “excellent campaign that Paul ran.” Devine said he produced TV commercials and wrote speeches for Yanukovych, earning $500,000 and a bonus of $100,000 when Manafort’s client won.
.. While working on the campaign, Devine met other Manafort associates who have since come under investigation, including Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian citizen. At the time, Devine said, Kilimnik worked as a translator. Prosecutors have said Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence, and they accused him and Manafort of trying to tamper with witnesses earlier this year.
Devine said Manafort was clearly the boss in his relationship with Gates, though they were partners.
“Paul was in charge,” Devine said. “Rick worked for Paul.”