Manafort gets 7 years, bids for Trump pardon
Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, got a second prison sentence this week, bringing his term to seven and a half years—by far the longest sentence to date resulting from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Manafort, 69, pleaded guilty to not disclosing high-paying lobbying work in Ukraine, then tampered with two witnesses and lied to investigators after agreeing to cooperate. With more than 20 of Mueller’s staff in the Washington, D.C., courtroom, Judge Amy Berman Jackson said, “It is hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud” involved in Manafort’s case. Jackson added 43 months to the nearly four-year sentence ordered last week by a judge in Alexandria, Va., following Manafort’s conviction for eight felony counts of bank and tax fraud. “This defendant is not Public Enemy No. 1,” Jackson said, “but he’s also not a victim.”
Just an hour later, a New York grand jury indicted Manafort on 16 counts related to millions of dollars in alleged mortgage fraud, an effort by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to convict Manafort on state charges should Trump pardon his federal crimes. Trump hasn’t ruled out a pardon, saying he felt “very badly” for Manafort after last week’s sentencing. Manafort lost out on a lighter prison term by voiding his cooperation agreement with the special prosecutor. By contrast, Mueller’s office recommended little or no prison time for former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who completed his year-plus of cooperating testimony this week.
What the columnists said
Manafort’s lawyers stood in Jackson’s court but spoke directly to Trump, said David Graham in TheAtlantic.com. After the hearing, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing called the sentence “callous,” adding, “Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case.” That’s a stretch; in fact, she warned that one reason Manafort’s case uncovered little may be that he lied to investigators. Manafort keeps “hyping his victimhood” and portraying himself as a loyal soldier to Trump, who has “conspicuously declined to rule out a pardon.”
Cue the “complaints that Jackson let Manafort off too easy,” said Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview.com. “If you feel that way, then Mueller shoulders much of the blame.” He capped the possible sentence to coax Manafort into testifying against Trump, a strategy that yielded nothing. Mueller has been “flouting Justice Department charging policies” throughout his probe. This time, it blew up in his face.
Only one question will determine whether Manafort gets a pardon, said Paul Waldman in WashingtonPost.com: “Is it good for Trump?” The president certainly wouldn’t do something so politically explosive “out of sympathy or compassion.” Now that Manafort faces a slew of state charges, it’s possible Trump wouldn’t be able to rescue him from prison anyway. All a pardon would do, said Brent Budowsky in TheHill.com, is create “an epic constitutional crisis” and “guarantee” impeachment hearings.