Lawyers for Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, went out of their way to send one specific message to anyone listening, specifically to Manafort’s former boss: There was no proven evidence of collusion in the charges Manafort faced.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson, in adding 43 months to the 47-month sentence Manafort had received earlier this month in another court, dismissed the relevance of that point, as The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reports.
“The ‘no collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to matters at hand,” Jackson said, adding: “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non-sequitur." After all, she pointed out, the investigation isn’t over. It’s worth noting, too, that one hearing related to Manafort involved a lawyer for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III arguing that a particular meeting in which Manafort was involved got to “the heart” of Mueller’s investigation — which is centered on the question of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
After Jackson’s sentence was imposed, Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing spoke briefly to reporters outside the courthouse.
“For anyone who was in the courtroom today, what I’m about to say will not be a surprise," Downing said. “Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case, so that makes two courts, two courts have ruled no evidence of any collusion with any Russians."
That’s not what Jackson said, as people nearby quickly pointed out, but the message was sent: The president who on 226 occasions has specifically stated that there was no collusion could now proudly tweet Downing’s words. And, who knows, maybe show a little appreciation to Downing’s client for making that point.
What sort of appreciation? Well, the crimes for which Manafort has been sentenced were all federal crimes, and Trump has the power to pardon any person who has committed federal crimes. He has shown willingness to leverage that power, too, including for his political allies. Former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, for example, received one of Trump’s first pardons, with Trump going on to effuse about Arpaio’s character.
About the same time that Downing was speaking, though, another bit of news broke. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. announced that Manafort would be indicted on 16 state counts related to alleged fraudulent activity related to mortgages Manafort held. And, if Manafort is convicted, there’s nothing Trump can do for his former campaign chief.
It’s hard to believe that Vance’s timing was coincidental. In fact, he appears to have referred obliquely to the possibility of a pardon in his news release announcing the indictments.
“No one is beyond the law in New York,” Vance is quoted as saying. You can almost hear him punctuating that “in New York.”
“I thank our prosecutors for their meticulous investigation,” he added, "which has yielded serious criminal charges for which the defendant has not been held accountable.”
Vance himself was the focus of outrage in 2017 when it was learned that his office had not prosecuted several public figures. First, the New Yorker reported that his office had declined to prosecute film producer Harvey Weinstein after receiving a report of an alleged sexual assault — and despite having a recording of Weinstein admitting to the act. Then there was a report from WNYC and ProPublica that revealed that Vance’s office had evidence implicating Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., two of the president’s children, in fraudulent activity but that Vance eventually instructed that the case be dropped.
That adds another layer to Vance’s comment about accountability in the news release.
As it stands, Manafort has been sentenced to more than seven years in federal prison. With one brief comment, Trump could wipe that away. All of the back and forth over Manafort and his lies to Mueller’s investigators and his convictions in Virginia would be rendered moot.
And then, waiting in the wings, a separate legal process just waiting to get underway — outside of the range of Trump’s influence.