Manafort’s 4-Year Sentence Could Grow at Hearing on Wednesday

(Bloomberg) -- Paul Manafort could have been sentenced to as long as 24 years in prison last week. Instead, a sympathetic federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, gave him less than four.

On Wednesday, Manafort faces another sentencing, this time before a federal judge in the District of Columbia who has already thrown him in jail for attempting to tamper with witnesses and chastised him for breaching his cooperation agreement.

Manafort’s 4-Year Sentence Could Grow at Hearing on Wednesday

Manafort, 69 and in poor health, pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts in the Washington case, each punishable by as long as five years in prison. To arrive at an overall prison term, the Washington judge must decide one key question: Should her sentence run at the same time as the Virginia sentence, or should hers be tacked on at the end?

The considerations include whether Manafort should be punished for lying to prosecutors after pledging to cooperate, whether a harsh sentence would deter other would-be criminals, and whether the defendant has expressed sufficient remorse.

“This is going to turn out as almost an object lesson in how two different judges can look at a defendant very differently,” said white-collar criminal defense lawyer Stephen Braga, who’s had cases before both Judge T.S. Ellis III in Virginia and Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington. “My guess is that Judge Jackson will look at this much more severely than Judge Ellis did.”

Illegal Lobbying

Jackson will punish Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, for his admitted role in a decade-long conspiracy to illegally lobby the U.S. on behalf of pro-Russian political forces in Ukraine. She’ll also sentence him for conspiring with another man to illegally influence witness testimony.

Manafort pleaded guilty to the two conspiracy counts three weeks after a jury in Ellis’s courtroom convicted him of hiding tens of millions of dollars offshore, cheating the U.S. government out of millions in taxes and defrauding two banks.

He has already served more time than anyone charged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation of Russian election interference. Ellis has openly criticized Mueller’s investigation, while Jackson is presiding over several of the special counsel’s cases.

Among them is the case against Manafort’s onetime business partner, Republican political operative Roger Stone. Last year, she sent Dutch attorney Alex van der Zwaan to jail for 30 days after he lied to investigators about his contact with a top Trump campaign official and a reputed Russian spy. Former Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who was charged with Manafort but pleaded guilty. He’s cooperating with Mueller and will be sentenced by Jackson.

Ellis’s rulings in his Manafort case tended to favor the defense, whereas Jackson’s rulings have tipped toward the prosecution.

‘Blameless Life’

Ellis, who said at the Virginia sentencing that Manafort had “lived an otherwise blameless life,” didn’t talk about Manafort’s transgressions in the Washington case because they weren’t matters before him, Braga said. Jackson, by contrast, will consider those deeds and also the length of the other sentence.

“That’s where I think the rubber is really going to meet the road,” Braga said. If Jackson believes Ellis’s punishment was too light, she’s more likely to make her terms consecutive rather than concurrent, he said.

Notably, Ellis said after Manafort addressed the court in Virginia that he was “surprised that I did not hear you express regret for engaging in wrongful conduct. In other words, you didn’t say, I really, really regret not doing what I knew the law required.” But he said Manafort’s lack of contrition didn’t factor into his sentence.

The Virginia judge also questioned the effectiveness of long prison terms as a deterrent to other would-be criminals, even as he said that Congress required its consideration. “I don’t know, as an empirical matter, whether there is any deterrent effect to sentences,” he said.

High-Profile Case

Jackson is 14 years younger than her 78-year-old counterpart in Alexandria. She was named to the bench by President Barack Obama, a Democrat. He was an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

Jackson, a former federal prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer, is pithy and skeptical. She openly doubted defense claims that Manafort’s confinement in a northern Virginia jail had seriously degraded his health. Ellis, a U.S. Navy veteran who was born in Bogota, Colombia, is known for his sermons to those he’s about to punish that life is about making choices and then having to live with them.

Braga, the criminal defense lawyer, also called Jackson thoughtful, serious and deliberate. But where Jackson is more prone to consider the larger ramifications of her rulings, Ellis tends to be more guided by his personal experience and viewpoints, he said.

For Manafort, the relatively short Virginia sentence “may at the end of the day be the consummate Pyrrhic victory,” said Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor in Ellis’s courthouse. “It may embolden Judge Jackson to give Manafort the max, and make it consecutive.”

The case is U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington). The other case is U.S. v. Manafort, 18-cr-83, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).

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