Well, Judge T.S. Ellis did not literally hit former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort with a pillow.
That’s just a metaphor.
But Federal Judge Ellis of the eastern district of Virginia, may have as well thrown a cushy pillow at him as punishment with his light sentence.
After Manafort’s conviction on 8 counts of tax fraud, money laundering, banking fraud, and playing special counsel team for suckers, Judge Ellis could only muster sentencing him to a measly 47 months in federal prison.
It’s amazing Manafort did not leap out of his wheelchair in joy, moon-walked over to the bench and high-fived, fist-bumped and bear-hugged Judge Ellis in appreciation of the slap on the wrist with a feather.
The light sentence comes as a shock to many political and legal experts, especially considering that special counsel prosecutors asked the court to throw the book at Manafort and issue a sentence of 19 to 24 years.
In what can be described as a baby aspirin sentence, the judge rewarded Manafort and allowed him to waltz away after committing extensive felonies, tampering with witnesses, and tricking the special counsel office into a fake cooperation agreement where he lied and spied for President Donald Trump’s defense team.
Sentencing guidelines provides that a defendant, who has committed financial crimes similar to Manafort’s should be receive a sentence between 19 to 30 years in prison.
A USA Today report, however, found a quarter of defendants in the eastern district of Virginia were sentenced below federal guidelines, while two-thirds were sentenced within guidelines.
Please don’t tell former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick this, he’s an exception, but such sentencing inconsistencies seem to favor white collar criminals like Manafort.
In comparison, Kilpatrick, who was convicted on similar charges as Manafort, was sentenced to 28 cold years in federal prison by Judge Nancy Edmunds, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George H. W. Bush.
Instead, of throwing the book, Judge Ellis appears to have thrown a fluffy pillow at Manafort saying the sentencing guidelines are too harsh in his opinion.
Judge Ellis also made curious assertions during the sentencing saying Manafort lived a “blameless life” and was “admired by many.”
It is puzzling where Judge Ellis gained such a favorable opinion about Manafort.
Truth is Manafort is no blameless boy scout.
Together with Roger Stone, another indicted Trump campaign alum, Manafort started a lobbying firm in the 80s that advocated for brutal dictators and helped to repair their image in Washington.
Manaforts clients included former Zaire’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, brutal Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and former Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukoyvch.
The prime of his career as a political consultant in the rough waters of former Soviet Bloc countries and building ties with Kremlin-connected Russian oligarchs, at least one of whom he is alleged to owe millions of dollars in debt.
During the trial, Ellis fashioned himself as a hostile judge to the prosecution, questioning whether the prosecution was just using the indictment against Manafort as a pressure tactic to turn him against Trump.
Legal experts and political pundits took to Twitter criticizing the light sentence as a joke. CNN legal analyst Laura Coates called out Judge Ellis’ pointing out that last year, he sentenced Frederick Turner, 37, a first-time offender to a mandatory minimum 40 years in prison for dealing methamphetamine.
FYI in 2018, #JudgeEllis sentenced Frederick Turner, 37, to a mandatory minimum of 40 years in prison for dealing methamphetamine: "I chafe a bit at that, but I follow the law. If I thought it was blatantly immoral, I'd have to resign. It's wrong, but not immoral." #PaulManafort
— Laura Coates (@thelauracoates) March 8, 2019
According to a Washington Post report on the harsh sentence, even Judge Ellis, who imposed the sentence, thought it was excessive, but he imposed it anyway because he said he “follows the law” and he is bound by the mandatory sentencing guidelines.
While in Manafort’s the sentencing guidelines are not mandatory, Judge Ellis did not seem eager to apply the same standards as in Turner’s case. He reduced Manafort’s sentence to almost a 1/5 of the recommendation.
Turner’s case is not the only inconsistent ruling from Judge Ellis. According to a Forbes Magazine report, Ellis, who was appointed to judgeship by President Ronald Reagan, seems to favor Republicans over Democrats.
Judge Ellis sentenced Congressman William Jefferson, a corrupt politician from Louisiana, to 13 years in prison. Jefferson, an African American, was caught in an FBI sting operation with a bag full of bribery cash chilling in his freezer.
Jefferson’s 13-year sentence, was the longest ever handed to a politician in a bribery case at the time.
At Judge Ellis’ recommendation, Jefferson was, however, released after serving 5 years– still a few months more than Manafort’s sweetheart full sentence.
Such a light sentence for Manafort, a person who convicted of 8 counts of financial crimes and playing the special counsel for suckers in a pretend cooperation agreement, raises questions about the value of cooperating with the special counsel.
This factor could undermine efforts of getting to the bottom of the 2016 Russian interference in the US presidential elections.
He is facing sentencing for another case March 13, this time in Washington DC in front of Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the same judge presiding over the case involving Trump associate Roger Stone.
Disappointed legal experts and political pundits are looking toward Judge Jackson to impose a harsher sentence on Manafort to be served consecutively to the 47-month sentence in Virginia eastern district.
I would expect on Manafort, after this 47 month sentence in VA, that the special counsel will seek, and Judge Amy Berman Jackson will impose, a few years’ consecutive time in the DC case.
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) March 8, 2019
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