President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in prison on Thursday — far less than the 20 years recommended by the government.
Critics were quick to point to the decision as evidence of the justice system’s “blatant” inequalities. Those critics include many of the people running for the Democratic nomination.
Several of the presidential hopefuls called out the sentence as too lenient and said it highlighted the need for criminal justice reform.
“I’m really ticked off about this,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who has made criminal justice reform one of his landmark issues, told “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert on Thursday.
“One of my friends said, ‘We have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent,’ ” Booker said. “And there are people from neighborhoods like mine in America who get convicted for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing."
“You can tell a lot about a country by who they incarcerate,” he added.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) acknowledged that the judicial system seems to treat white-collar crime less seriously than crimes more common among working-class Americans and people of color. She tweeted: “My view on Manafort sentence: Guidelines there for a reason. His crimes took place over years and he led far from a ‘blameless life.’ Crimes committed in an office building should be treated as seriously as crimes committed on a street corner. Can’t have two systems of justice!”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a frequent critic of the Trump administration, tweeted about inequality in the legal system: “Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, commits bank and tax fraud and gets 47 months. A homeless man, Fate Winslow, helped sell $20 of pot and got life in prison. The words above the Supreme Court say “Equal Justice Under Law” — when will we start acting like it?”
While campaigning in South Carolina Friday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D.-Cal) compared the sentence of someone charged with a marijuana crime (12 years) to the sentence of four years that Manafort received. “Everyone should be treated equally under the law," she said.
Criminal justice reform is the rare issue that has gotten support from voters on both sides of the aisle since before the 2016 election. Congress passed the First Step Act at the end of 2018 to change the country’s criminal justice laws. The reaction to Manafort, however, is a good reminder that the issue will be a major topic in the 2020 campaign, as well.