After the skimpy sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in Virginia last week, Wednesday proved satisfying for those straining to see some semblance of equal justice under the law.
Once a globetrotting lobbyist and consultant to presidents, Paul Manafort was sentenced Wednesday to federal prison for the second time in seven days, giving him a total sentence of 7 1/2 years for his two federal cases. . . . Jackson from the bench called the defense’s repeated claims about the lack of collusion with the Russian government “a non-sequitur.”
That didn’t stop his lawyer from falsely announcing outside the courtroom that his client had been cleared of collusion charges. Jackson added, “It’s not appropriate to say investigators haven’t found anything when you lied to the investigators.” (Jackson might want to haul him back before the bench to explain his statement, which as an officer of the court is unacceptable.) She also told him to stop playing victim. Jackson told Manafort, “This defendant is not public enemy number one, but he’s also not a victim either.” She chastised him: “The defendant’s insistence that none of this should be happening to him … that the prosecution is misguided and excessive and invalid . . . is just one more thing that is inconsistent with a genuine acceptance of responsibility.”
She delivered the sound bite of the day, one that might be inscribed on the courthouse door. “Court is one of those places where facts still matter.” It’s unclear whether Trump and his cohorts understood those words apply to him as well.
That was not the high point of the day, however. Within minutes of Manafort’s sentencing, New York state prosecutors rolled out a 16-count indictment for residential mortgage fraud, conspiracy and related charges. Manafort’s lawyers will no doubt try to throw out the charges on double-jeopardy grounds, but it is not uncommon for state prosecutors to charge a defendant with state crimes arising out of the same nucleus of facts on which a federal conviction rested.
Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe told me that “the crimes charged appear to be very serious and distinct enough from the federal crimes for which Manafort has been sentenced to avoid any double jeopardy problem either as a matter of New York law or as a matter of federal constitutional law in the event that the Supreme Court were to jettison the separate sovereigns doctrine in Gamble v. United States, currently awaiting decision after the December 6 oral argument.”
Former prosecutor Renato Mariotti tweeted:
Savvy move by New York to wait until after Manafort’s sentence to file state charges against him. The federal judges couldn’t factor potential sentences when they sentenced him, but the specter of state convictions could dissuade Trump from pardoning him. https://t.co/E79XCBUM79— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) March 13, 2019
The double blow to Manafort means that even if Trump wanted to pardon him on federal charges, he’d still face state charges for which he cannot be pardoned.
And that realization — that federal crimes such as conspiracy to violate campaign laws, obstruction of justice, creating a false payments system might produce facts to support state charges as well — should hit home for Trump and his crew. Moreover, given the entirely independent investigation into Trump regarding taxes, his foundation and insurance underway in New York, Trump may find out there are some things neither he nor a successor could spare him from.
“Let’s be clear: any Trump pardon for Manafort to protect Trump’s own legal liability would violate the President’s oath to take care that the laws be faithfully executed," says Ian Bassin, executive director of Protect Democracy. "But just in case, the founders built a series of overlapping checks into the system to ensure no one is above the law and the New York DA is showing one of them here: federalism.”
For those afraid Trump will “get away” with wrongdoing unless impeached, remember he can be prosecuted after leaving office, and he may face state prosecutors. He will be held accountable, sooner rather than later, if voters kick him out of office next year.
Reis Thebault and Michael Brice-Saddler: Manafort’s ‘mind-boggling’ 47-month sentence prompts debate over judicial system’s ‘blatant inequities’