Former Trump campaign chairman, lobbyist for dictators and noted popinjay Paul Manafort just received another sentence for some of his many, many crimes. After getting 47 months in prison for his conviction on eight counts of tax fraud and bank fraud, Manafort was sentenced to a further 73 months by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in the District of Columbia, though 30 will run concurrently with his other sentence.
That means Manafort is slated to spend a total of 90 months, or seven and a half years, behind bars.
And while we can debate whether that’s a sufficient punishment given how so many poor defendants go to prison for much longer for much lesser crimes, it seems clear from everything that went on that Manafort is still hoping that his old buddy Donald Trump will come through for him with a pardon. Which he just might.
Let's look at this description of how Manafort's lawyers made their case to the judge:
Manafort’s team appealed for less time, arguing he was singled out by prosecutors for lobbying and financial crimes unrelated to Russian collusion with Trump’s campaign and "vilified in a manner that this country has not experienced in decades."
Manafort "is presented to this Court by the government as a hardened criminal who ‘brazenly’ violated the law and deserves no mercy. But this case is not about murder, drug cartels, organized crime, the Madoff Ponzi scheme or the collapse of Enron," his defense wrote.
They highlighted his work for a succession of Republican presidents and presidential candidates including Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole and presented him as a victim of vindictive prosecutors desperate to “tighten the screws” on a witness at the apex of Trump’s campaign to “flip” and implicate others, attorneys Kevin M. Downing, Thomas E. Zehnle and Richard W. Westling wrote.
If all he wanted was to get the shortest sentence possible, this was a curious strategy to say the least. First, there was no reason the judge should have cared one way or another about whether Manafort’s crimes were related to collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign. That’s not her job; her job is to give him a sentence appropriate for those crimes.
“The ‘no collusion’ refrain,” she said today, “is unrelated to the matters at hand.”
Nor should “Hey, there are worse criminals than me; it’s not like I killed anyone” be very persuasive. Likewise, the fact that Manafort was at the top of the political profession should if anything make his descent into a life of crime more egregious.
In other words, in making these points, it seemed like Manafort’s lawyers were trying less to obtain a reduced sentence and more to get the attention of one
person who would actually care about them: President Trump.
That continued in their last chance to make a case to the judge, when one of his lawyers decried the “political motivation” of the case; when the judge asked whether he was accusing the prosecutors of political motivation, he backtracked and said that he was referring to the “harshness” of media coverage of the case. Why, you’d almost call it a Fake News Witch Hunt! He also argued that “If not for a short stint as a campaign manager in a presidential election, I don’t think we’d be here today.”
Which is undoubtedly true, and holds a lesson for all of us: If you've been perpetrating multiple fraudulent schemes for years, it's probably a bad idea to take a job running a presidential campaign where you'll suddenly be subject to all kinds of scrutiny you avoided before.
But even if none of that mattered to the judge, you know who does care? Trump, who has repeatedly expressed his appreciation that Manafort didn’t squeal on him, in contrast to other people the president refers to as “rats.”
“Paul Manafort’s a good man,” Trump said after he was convicted the first time. His litany of crimes, said the president, “doesn’t involve me, but I still feel, you know, it’s a very sad thing that happened.”
That, too, was something Manafort tried to emphasize Wednesday, telling the judge that he had seen the light and now intended to lead a virtuous life. “Because of my new self-awareness, I can say to you with conviction that my behavior will be very different,” he said. “I have already begun to change.” But Judge Jackson was apparently unmoved by this supposed moral awakening. “Court is one of those places where facts still matter,” she said.
So will Trump give Manafort the pardon he’s seeking? The only way to answer that question is to ask another: Is it good for Trump? Because the president won’t do it out of sympathy or compassion; he’ll do it because it’s in his own interests. And at this point, what good would it do him? Manafort may not have anything left to tell prosecutors about Trump’s own involvement in crimes, so the danger he poses to Trump may have passed. And it would certainly be controversial, contributing to the widespread impression that Trump is deeply corrupt.
On the other hand, a pardon could send a message to others who might find themselves in a similar situation: Don’t rat on the boss, and when the time comes, he’ll help you out. That’s a message Trump likely has a very strong interest in communicating.
Update: Minutes after this sentence was handed down, the Manhattan district attorney announced that he’s indicting Manafort on 16 charges including mortgage fraud, conspiracy, and falsifying business records. If Manafort is convicted of these state crimes, Trump will not be able to pardon him.