On Thursday, a federal judge shredded Robert Mueller's "excessive" sentencing recommendations for Paul Manafort, slapping the former Trump campaign chairman with only about a fifth of the recommended prison sentence. Rather than the 19 to 24 years in prison the special counsel was pushing for, Judge T.S. Ellis III gave Manafort only 47 months, with 9 months already served — amounting to a little over three years in prison.
While Democrats began preemptively warning President Trump against pardoning Manafort, the president weighed in on Manafort's sentencing Friday morning by pointing out the key takeaway — at least from his perspective.
"Both the Judge and the lawyer in the Paul Manafort case stated loudly and for the world to hear that there was NO COLLUSION with Russia," Trump tweeted Friday. "But the Witch Hunt Hoax continues as you now add these statements to House & Senate Intelligence & Senator Burr. So bad for our Country!"
As Trump emphasized, Manafort's lawyers and Judge Ellis underscored that while Mueller's mandate is to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, the case against Manafort had nothing to do with it.
During the pre-trial hearing, Ellis called out prosecutors over this glaring issue, asking why the special counsel was bringing charges unrelated to the Russia investigation against Manafort. As the Washington Examiner notes, Ellis suggested his view on what Mueller's team was up to: they were trying to dig up information "that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever."
In their sentencing memo, Manafort's lawyers slammed the special counsel for trying to "vilify" their client and spread "misinformation" about him. The defense maintained that the prosecutors were out of line and their recommendations extreme. Ellis made clear that he largely agreed with the latter point, dismissing the sentencing recommendations as "excessive."
"To impose a sentence of 19-24 years on Mr. Manafort would clearly be a disparity," he said. "In the end, I don’t think the guidelines range is at all appropriate. I think what I’ve done is sufficiently punitive, and anyone who disagrees should spend a day in a federal penitentiary."
Manafort, 69, was charged with a long list 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 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 said. "Manafort chose to do this for no other reason than greed, evidencing his belief that the law does not apply to him."
The prosecutors also accused Manafort of failing to adequately cooperate with the special counsel's investigation, telling the judge that he "never gave meaningful help during his cooperation with the special counsel's office, despite spending 50 hours together."
Manafort still faces another sentencing for charges of foreign lobbying violations and tampering with a witness during the investigation, crimes for which he pleaded guilty.