Welcome back to Trump Watch. Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was sentenced Thursday to a term of nearly four years in prison for financial fraud during a hearing in Alexandria, Virginia. We’ve got some perspectives from the courtroom. Thanks for reading, and feel free to reach out any time at ekim@alm.com.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III

Inside the hearing

The hours that led up to Paul Manafort receiving his sentence for financial crimes in Virginia were marked by uneasy tension as the onetime Trump campaign chairman, pushed into the courtroom in a wheelchair, cast himself as a chastened man.

Ultimately, at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing, Manafort was sentenced by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to roughly four years in prison, a punishment that fell well short of the federal sentencing guideline range of 19-24 years. The term will fall closer to three years, since Ellis allowed Manafort to receive credit for the nine months he’s already served.


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Manafort, who strode into court during his trial wearing suits, appeared Thursday grayer, more frayed, and confined to a wheelchair. (Manafort first appeared in Ellis’ courtroom in a wheelchair last year. His attorneys later said their client suffered from gout, anxiety and depression.)

Again, the courtroom was packed, as spectators and reporters alike formed a queue outside. One juror from Manafort’s trial even attended the spectacle.

In court filings, Manafort’s attorney’s sought to cast him as a man who accepted responsibility. The special counsel’s office aggressively fought that notion Thursday, as prosecutor Greg Andres said Manafort’s sentencing submissions were “replete with blaming others.”

In one exchange, as lawyers disagreed over how much credit Manafort should receive for sitting for 50 hours of cooperation, Andres told Ellis those house had amounted to nothing.

“That doesn’t mean that he didn’t cooperate,” Ellis said at one point, observing that it only meant the special counsel didn’t find Manafort’s information particularly valuable. Andres replied that “the reason” Manafort’s cooperation lasted 50 hours was because “he lied.”

“It certainly wasn’t 50 hours of information that was useful,” the prosecutor said.

When it came time for Manafort to speak, he attempted to paint himself as a humbled and changed man. As he rose from his wheelchair, the judge reminded him he did not need to stand.

“To say that I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” Manafort said. “My life, professionally and financially, is in shambles.”

He even praised the fairness of the trial, marking some contrast between him and President Donald Trump, who has described the prosecution of his former campaign chair as unfair.

Manafort’s comments—and their lack of contrition—didn’t get past Ellis who remarked during the hearing that Manafort had not expressed any regret. “I certainly recommend that you do it in the District of Columbia,” Ellis said, referring to Manafort’s upcoming sentencing in Washington.

Even then, Ellis issued a sentence that was 15 years less than the one recommended under sentencing guidelines. And while Ellis’ past criticism of the Mueller probe came up again during the hearing, it appeared to play no role in his sentencing.

Instead, Ellis said he viewed the guideline range as “excessive,” and that he would avoid creating an “unwarranted disparity” with past sentences for felons convicted of similar charges.

“The government cannot sweep away” the history of those past sentences, Ellis said.

Criticism ricocheted from social media to cable shows, where people said Manafort’s sentence highlighted the unfairness of the criminal justice system.

After the hearing, prosecutors and defense attorneys shook hands. Manafort’s lead lawyer, Kevin Downing, later told reporters outside the courthouse that there was no evidence Manafort was involved in “collusion” with the Kremlin in the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. election.

Manafort faces the prospect of more time in prison when he appears before Judge Amy Berman Jackson for sentencing in the District Wednesday. He pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts there.

Prosecutors have the chance to argue that her sentence should run consecutive, not concurrent, to Ellis’. Defense attorneys have said Manafort faces a maximum of 10 years in D.C.

Asked by Downing if he could order a concurrent sentence Thursday, Ellis said no. “It’s up to her,” though Ellis said lawyers could return to him if his statement were later found to be incorrect.

Just before he delivered his punishment, Ellis reflected for a moment on a similar sentence he gave a man in a tax fraud case. He acknowledged that that outcome might not have been well liked.

He suggested his sentence for Manafort might not be well-received either.

But it would be a “just sentence,” he said. “I have satisfied myself about that.”


Speed Reads

>> Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, sued the Trump Organization in Manhattan Supreme Court on Thursday, “alleging it was supposed to cover his attorney fees and costs incurred in his work for the company,” the New York Law Journal reports.

>> “The ethics committee for the federal judiciary is warning judges to carefully consider their participation in events by groups that are ‘engaged in public policy debates.’” [The NLJ]