Federal Judge T.S. Ellis III defied Robert Mueller's "excessive" sentencing recommendation on Thursday and gave Paul Manafort only about a fifth of the prison time the special counsel wanted to see the former Trump campaign chairman serve.
Though Mueller has been tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential "collusion" with the Trump campaign, Manafort's charges have nothing to do with Russia or the campaign; rather they are a series of financial crimes, including "defrauding banks and the government, and failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars in income he earned from Ukrainian political consulting," CNN reports.
Manafort, 69, was sentenced to 47 months in prison — which will turn out to be about 38 due to time served — and three years of supervised release. Mueller recommended Manafort be sentenced to 19 to 24 years. As CNN notes, the prosecutors "wanted more time" in part because "Manafort never gave meaningful help during his cooperation with the special counsel's office, despite spending 50 hours together."
"Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars," the prosecutors argued. "Manafort chose to do this for no other reason than greed, evidencing his belief that the law does not apply to him."
But, as the Washington Examiner's Caitlyn Yilek reports, Judge Ellis — a Ronald Reagan-appointeee who is a former U.S. Navy aviator — dismissed the "excessive" 19 to 24-year request as being "clearly a disparity" with Manafort's crimes.
"To impose a sentence of 19-24 years on Mr. Manafort would clearly be a disparity. In the end, I don’t think the guidelines range is at all appropriate," the judge said, adding: "I think what I’ve done is sufficiently punitive, and anyone who disagrees should spend a day in a federal penitentiary."
Along with the 47-month sentence with 9 months served, Ellis set Manafort's restitution at a wide range — $6 million to nearly $25 million — pending clarification on how much he will have to relinquish in the forfeiture process, CNN reports.
Yilek notes that Ellis displayed impatience at times with the prosecutors in the pre-trial hearing, "question[ing] why the special counsel’s office had charged Manafort with crimes unrelated to their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election." The judge also suggested that Mueller's team was really trying to use Manafort to get Trump.
While Manafort certainly got off a lot easier than prosecutors had hoped, he still faces another sentencing for charges for which he pleaded guilty: foreign lobbying violations and the process crime of tampering with a witness during his attempt to reach a plea deal with prosecutors.
Democrats are not happy about Judge Ellis' decision to give Manafort less than four years, some taking to social media to decry the "injustice" of the sentence and float conspiratorial claims, including House Intelligence Committee Chair Democrat Adam Schiff, who has already sent out preemptive warnings against Trump pardoning Manafort.
"The statement by Paul Manafort’s lawyer after an already lenient sentence — repeating the President’s mantra of no collusion — was no accident. It was a deliberate appeal for a pardon," Schiff wrote after the sentencing Thursday. "One injustice must not follow another."
"Presidents can use a pardon to rectify an injustice. They may not use it to obstruct justice," Schiff wrote earlier Thursday. "I just introduced legislation to ensure that if the pardon power is abuse to coverup crimes involving any President, his/her family or associates, Congress finds out."