Manafort’s Light Sentence Has Nothing To Do With Trump And Everything To Do With White Collar Crime

Ken AshfordCourts/Law, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The 47-month sentenced former Donald Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort received yesterday in a Virginia courtroom drew wide condemnation for its leniency.  Actually, it is less, because he gets credit for nine months of time served.

Convicted as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations, Manafort faced 19 to 24 years per guidelines of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Criminal sentences across the U.S. are excessive, in general. But even after Manafort expressed no regret for his crimes, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis felt the recommended range was excessive for a rich, connected white man known as a lobbyist for torturers who, Ellis said, had lived “an otherwise blameless life.”

Franklin Foer issued an angry rebuttal to Ellis’ opinion of a man found guilty — among his other crimes — “of tax evasion on an industrial scale.” Foer spits:

In an otherwise blameless life, Paul Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations.

In an otherwise blameless life, he helped the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.

In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of landmines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.

Foer was just getting wound up. He has more. Much more. But whatever Manafort’s personal history, he was convicted and sentenced for a specific subset of criminal acts, not for being a career criminal. That’s how the system is supposed to work. For rich, connected white men, leniency is de rigueur.

Manafort may have received a light touch from the Eastern District of Virginia owing to “class and racial disparities” in the system, but he faces a second sentencing next week from a court in the District of Columbia. There, Judge Amy Berman Jackson has already signaled she is not so favorably disposed toward him. Manafort faces sentencing for “two conspiracy counts encompassing violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, money laundering, tax fraud and obstruction of justice” for which he may face 10 additional years in prison.

She doesn’t have to follow the sentencing guidelines either.

And one hopes she gives the sentence consecutively.

And there may be more coming down the pike from Mueller:

And finally, Mueller may still find evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and Manafort or other Trump campaign officials to attack the 2016 presidential election. After the sentencing, Manafort’s lawyer said that the case exposed no evidence of “collusion with any government official from Russia.” The specificity of that statement begs several questions—was there collusion with Russians who were not government officials? Was there collusion with government officials from other countries? Is “collusion” the word of choice because collusion in this context is not a crime? The fact that Manafort’s case is over does not mean that Mueller is done investigating all of his activities or the activities of others relating to Russia.

But beyond the Russia investigation, the amount of damage this old republic has endured continues to mount. Fairness of elections is in question. Justice is a shadow of our lofty ideals. Congress remains gridlocked. Trump and his Senate enablers are packing the courts. Even keeping a list of Trump administration scandals up to date is exhausting.

Marcy Wheeler writes, “It seems that we need to start trying to quantify this not in terms of names or actions but instead in terms of harm to the nation.” The deepest wounds are psychological, involving loss of faith in America itself. That faith will not be restored until justice is blind and elite criminals face an accounting. Chief among them, the Trump Organization run by Chauncey Gardner‘s evil twin. But that will not happen so long as there is a system of soft justice for the rich and white, and another more punitive for everybody else.