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March 7, 2019

Paul Manafort given (only?) 47 months in prison at first federal sentencing

I worried that my prediction this morning that Paul Manafort would get 100 months at his first federal sentencing was a little low.  Turns out, I was way too high: he got only 47 months today.   Here are some details from The Hill:

A federal judge on Thursday sentenced former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to 47 months in prison, well below the amount recommended in sentencing guidelines. The sentence handed down by Judge T.S. Ellis III, a Reagan appointee, was significantly less than the 19.5 to 24 years advised in federal guidelines.

Ellis, in remarks from the bench, described Manafort’s financial crimes as “very serious” but said the guideline range was “not at all appropriate,” and pointed to significantly more-lenient sentences handed down in similar cases.

Manafort, who turns 70 next month, appeared in court in a wheelchair and wore a green jumpsuit. His prison sentence will include time served, meaning nine months will be knocked off for the time he has already spent in jail. As a result, he will be incarcerated for three years and two months.

He was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and up to $24 million in restitution.

“You’ve been convicted of serious crimes -- very serious crimes -- by a jury,” Ellis said to a packed courtroom after a lengthy sentencing hearing in federal court in Alexandria, Va., that lasted nearly three hours. However, he added, “I think that sentencing range is excessive. I don’t think that is warranted in this case.”

Manafort’s attorneys earlier this month asked for leniency, citing their client’s age, poor health, low risk of reoffending and assistance in Mueller’s probe. On Thursday, defense attorney Thomas Zehnle pointed to other cases in which defendants received much less prison time for similar crimes.

In remarks shortly before receiving his sentence, Manafort described himself as “humiliated and ashamed” of his behavior and for the pain he had caused his family. He thanked Ellis for a fair trial twice and asked him for compassion. “My life professionally and financially is in shambles,” Manafort said. “To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” “I intend to turn my notoriety into a positive.”

However, Manafort did not express remorse for his actions -- something Ellis noted before handing down the punishment. “I was surprised that I did not hear you express regret,” said Ellis. “That doesn’t make any difference on the judgment that I am about to make … but I hope you reflect on that.”

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. The financial crimes were uncovered during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. His case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia marked the first criminal trial in the Mueller probe. But as the defense noted, Manafort’s crimes had nothing to do with Russian election meddling or collusion with the Trump campaign....

To avoid a second criminal trial on separate charges in Washington, D.C., Manafort reached a plea deal with Mueller that involved his full cooperation with federal prosecutors. But the federal judge presiding over his case in D.C. found that he lied to investigators and a federal grand jury about subjects “material” to Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Manafort was initially scheduled for sentencing in early February, but Ellis postponed the hearing to let Judge Amy Berman Jackson in D.C. determine whether Manafort’s misstatements were unintentional, as he had argued. Ellis said at the time he thought Jackson’s ruling could impact his own sentencing of Manafort.

Sentencing in the D.C. case is scheduled for Wednesday. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses. Jackson will decide whether he should serve those years consecutively or concurrently with the ones handed down by Ellis.

Manafort could walk free from federal punishment if President Trump decides to pardon him, but it’s unclear whether the president plans to pursue that avenue. The New York Times recently reported that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is planning to bring state charges against Manafort regardless.

A few quick points in reaction:

1.  Though I do not know exactly when Manafort will get out, I can confidently predict he will not serve exactly 47 months for two reasons: (a) he may get consecutive time at his next sentencing next week (and I suspect he will), and (b) he will surely earn good-time credits and perhaps have others means of getting released earlier as an elderly offender. (Good-time credit alone could get him seven months off possibly resulting in his release before the end of 2021 on the sentence he received today).

2.  I have already seen lots of Twitter commentary complaining this sentence is way too lenient, but I sense many of the complaints really stem from folks rightly seeing a lot of other sentences as way too harsh.  Title 18 USC § 3553(a) calls upon a federal judge to impose a sentence "sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with" traditional sentencing purposes.  I have a hard time developing forceful arguments that a nearly four-year prison term for a nearly 70-year-old man, plus a $50,000 fine and $24 million in restitution, is not sufficient in response to a nonviolent crime.

3.  Roughly a decade ago, when Bernie Madoff got a max sentence of 150 years, I speculated in this post about prosecutors using that high number as a sentencing benchmark in all sorts of other white-collar cases.  Now I am thinking that Paul Manafort has produced a new kind of white-collar sentencing benchmark that now should be of great use to defense attorneys.  Notably, not only was Manafort facing a guideline range of 19.5 to 24 years, but he went to trial and never fully accepted responsibility or even showed remorse.  "If unremorseful Manafort only merited 47 months in prison," so the argument should go from many defense attorneys, "this white-collar defendant should get even less."

March 7, 2019 at 07:15 PM | Permalink


I think, if the guidelines are inappropriate in this case, they're more or less never appropriate and they need to be reexamined. He did everything wrong in the case, including affirmatively demonstrating lack of remorse or willingness to change after being convicted. I mean, I tend to agree that the guidelines seem excessive, but they need to make sure that's consistently applied in the future.

That being said, I don't think you can bring up his age when it comes to the sentence and then bring up the fine as if it's meaningful. He's almost certainly never going to pay that.

Posted by: Erik M | Mar 8, 2019 6:41:22 AM

I am wondering, not having any familiarity with the case law in the Fourth Circuit, how does Judge Ellis's explanation of his reasons for going this far below the guidelines match up with the reasonableness analysis done by that Circuit. I know that prior to Booker, the explanation of a downward departure was generally something that the judge found significant in the case that was not considered by the guidelines. But, at least the stories that I have seen seem to suggest that Judge Ellis just basically held that he did not agree with the guidelines. Is that something that could cause problems if the government appeals the sentence as unreasoanble?

Posted by: tmm | Mar 8, 2019 10:49:18 AM

One possible unspoken reason for this low sentence is the specter of a pardon. A harsh sentence would give Trump one more piece of rhetorical lumber in support of a pardon. This sentence removes that opportunity.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 8, 2019 12:58:37 PM

1. The government can appeal the sentence --unless they bargained that away in the plea agreement, but I doubt that.

2. "Otherwise blameless life." I have argued that as a grounds for a downward variance hundreds of times; often successfully--albeit not to this degree.

3. A few weeks ago I wrote here that I thought Manafort's sentencing memorandum was very powerful and persuasive. I guess the judge thought so too. Kudos to his attorneys.

4. I would have given him more, but a four year sentence, or even a two year entence, for a near 70 year old is not a picnic. And then the cursed supervised release to follow!

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Mar 8, 2019 1:47:34 PM

"I have a hard time developing forceful arguments that a nearly four-year prison term for a nearly 70-year-old man, plus a $50,000 fine and $24 million in restitution, is not sufficient in response to a nonviolent crime."

I tend to agree with that statement more than I disagree. I think a higher sentence was probably appropriate for a number of reasons; I think the judge ignored some important aggravating factors. But, that being said, I think the greater point here is the absurdity of the guideline itself.

My take away: The public should not be hung up on the amount of downward variance. It should be hung up on the height of the guideline to begin with.

Posted by: DEJ | Mar 8, 2019 8:27:30 PM

Agreed, DEJ, and I think some of the aggravating factors come in the ambit of the case before Judge Jackson. I think Judge Ellis wanted to give Judge Jackson some room to give effect to those factors. Let’s see if she does.

Posted by: Doug B. | Mar 8, 2019 8:52:04 PM

Manafort is only being prosecuted because he was associated with Trump. That's a problem.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 9, 2019 7:50:05 AM

federalist, I would be eager to hear what you think would be appropriate judicial remedies/responses to this problem you have identified. E.g.,

-- Do you think a federal judge should be allowed to dismiss a prosecution he believes was brought for a questionable political purpose?

-- Do you think a federal judge should "discount" what sentence will be imposed in a (successful) prosecution he believes was brought for a questionable political purpose?

Posted by: Doug B | Mar 9, 2019 10:06:58 AM

Federalist seems to be the one putting forward a political grudge. It may be that Manafort was *investigated* only because he was associated with Trump, but the investigation led to prosecutable facts. The jury agrees. His association with Trump put him under the microscope, but a look through that lens revealed clear criminality.

Posted by: Jeffersonian | Mar 9, 2019 10:53:05 AM

"Do you think a federal judge should "discount" what sentence will be imposed in a (successful) prosecution he believes was brought for a questionable political purpose?"

I am not federalist but I will interject to say that my answer to this question by Doug B. is an unqualified "yes." Indeed, we see this mechanic play in the Schock case. He owes his freedom right now to Sotomayer pointing out that his initial charges were likely brought for questionable political purposes.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 9, 2019 11:10:10 AM

Here's two other questions for you, federalist:

-- Police get a search warrant for Person A's computer to search for financial crimes. While validly conducting that search and looking in places authorized under the warrant, police find a trove of child pornography, both that he possessed and produced. Do you think Person A should be prosecuted for child pornography possession and production, or should police just turn a blind eye?

-- Police get a search warrant for Person B's house to search for stollen items. While validly conducting that search and looking in places authorized under the warrant, they find evidence that Person A is the leader of a major drug organization. Do you think Person A should be prosecuted, or should police just turn a blind eye?

Manafort is similar to Person A in both examples. It is NOT true to say he was prosecuted "because he was associated with Trump". Manafort was prosecuted because during an investigation, law enforcement discovered evidence of serious crimes he committed.

After finding evidence of serious crimes he committed, any decision NOT to prosecute Manafort would have been the "political" decision.

Posted by: DEJ | Mar 9, 2019 12:00:26 PM

Not a lawyer, but criminals are often sociopathic. Since they don't know the difference between right and wrong, they are using bad judgement in many endeavors and so that would be a reason to have a little more latitude in surveilling them and in overseeing them to protect society from them

Posted by: alponso | Mar 9, 2019 1:30:08 PM

My point in the above post was that since some criminals commit multiple crimes because of their sociopathy, society should have the option to look or other crimes when exercising a warrant that has meet whatever warrant thresholds exist to be legal/

Posted by: alponso | Mar 9, 2019 1:33:48 PM

The problem is not so much that the sentence was too low. Manafort's sentence contrasts with the absurd sentences handed down for far less harmful conduct. It highlights the enormous chunks of people's lives we devour for virtually any infraction that gets labeled a "felony". It's not that Manafort's sentence was too low: it's that other peoples' sentences are too high.

Posted by: Chris Jenkins | Mar 9, 2019 5:41:29 PM

Would Manafort have been charged or even investigated without his involvement with Trump? Keep in mind that his crime had nothing to do with his involvement in politics, regardless of his culpability. I'll be blunt: I find this aspect of his crime FAR MORE CHILLING than the lack of actual time that falls "within guidelines." Considering that Bob Menendez walked despite more comprehensive evidence against his financial shenanigans is indicative of the disconnect between members of different political parties and their punishments, or lack thereof.

And now Congress has potentially 80 people to investigate, and they will undoubtedly find crimes among them to attempt to get to Trump. Obviously, Democrats will disagree with this assessment, but the problem will exacerbate in the future if this is the new criminal investigation norm.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Mar 10, 2019 12:03:57 AM

Federalist and others say Manafort was prosecuted only because of his association with Trump.
Perhaps so. But this just shows that everyone whom Trump touches gets dirty. See "Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever Kindle Edition
by Rick Wilson (Author)"

Posted by: anon13 | Mar 10, 2019 12:12:18 PM


That's a ludicrous argument. "Dirty" is relative, unfortunately, to political bent, and as I have stated before, when politics enters the arena all investigations should restrict itself to the case at hand; in this case collusion with Russia. The fact that a political party can go after everyone of another political party to drum up charges is essentially enough to tell me we don't need Sentencing Law and Policy anymore, as all arguments can be construed two ways, RELEVANT facts be damned to smithereens, and the only pragmatic way to settle the arguments is on a Civil War battlefield. I don't mean to sound facetious, but I see no solution to this problem short of either war or complete destruction of the US Constitution. Pick and choose.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Mar 11, 2019 12:14:22 AM

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