People have a lot to say about Paul Manafort's 47-month prison sentence on tax and bank-fraud charges

  • President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in prison on Thursday.
  • The sentence handed down by US District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Virginia, is well below the federal sentencing recommendation of 19 to 24 years in prison.
  • After being indicted on 18 counts brought by the special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, Manafort was convicted of eight counts of tax and bank fraud by a jury last year; a mistrial was declared for the other 10 counts because of a deadlocked jury.
  • The sentence, just shy of four years, left some political pundits, former prosecutors, legal experts, and public defenders flummoxed – and they aired both their shock and their theories behind the sentencing on Twitter.

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in prison on Thursday.

The sentence handed down by US District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Virginia, was well below the federal sentencing recommendation of 19 to 24 years in prison.

After being indicted on 18 counts brought by the special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, Manafort was convicted of eight counts of tax and bank fraud by a jury last year; a mistrial was declared for the other 10 counts because of a deadlocked jury.

The nearly four-year sentence left some political pundits, former prosecutors, legal experts, and public defenders flummoxed – and they aired both their shock and their theories behind the sentencing on Twitter.

This is just the first of two sentences Manafort will face, as he struck a plea deal with Mueller’s office and pleaded guilty to two counts obstruction and conspiracy. US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson is overseeing that case in Washington, DC, and she has yet to hand down her sentence.

Here’s what experts are saying about the prison sentence Manafort was given Thursday:


Laurence Tribe: “Outrageously lenient.”

Tribe, a constitutional law expert who is a Carl M. Loeb University professor at the Harvard Law School, tweeted shortly after the verdict, calling the sentence “outrageously lenient.”

“Manafort’s 47-month sentence in ED Va is outrageously lenient,” he tweeted. “Judge Ellis has inexcusably perverted justice and the guidelines. His pretrial comments were a dead giveaway. The DC sentence next week had better be consecutive.”


Elie Honig: “47 months is a joke.”

The former federal and state prosecutor Honig called the sentencing a “joke” and “unjust.”

“A below-guidelines sentence would have been perfectly fair but 47 months is a joke,” he tweeted.

“Steal millions from US Government, violate bail, get convicted by jury, fake cooperate, lie to prosecutors, refuse to accept responsibility – and get an enormous break. That’s an unjust sentence.”


Walter Shaub: “Two different kinds of justice.”

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Shaub, an attorney focusing on government ethics who formerly served as the director of the US Office of Government Ethics, also responded to Manafort’s sentencing, seemingly referring to the fact that some get harsher sentences for lesser crimes.

“They sure have two different kinds of justice in this country,” he said in a tweet.


A possible explanation

A popular law-focused Twitter account called Popehat, which is operated by Ken White, a criminal-defence and First Amendment litigator in Los Angeles who previously served as a federal prosecutor, published a detailed thread hypothesizing why the sentence was lenient.

He pointed out that Ellis had criticised mandatory minimum sentencing for drug and gun laws.

“Federal Judges are often on an axis outside of left-right,” White said. “It’s about judicial discretion vs. Congressional limits. Many federal judges always despised the Sentencing Guidelines, because it limits what they see as their proper absolute discretion to choose a sentence.”


Public defenders also weighed in

The public defender Scott Hechinger tweeted a thread of prison sentences longer than Manafort’s for crimes including “a woman who voted while on probation without knowing she wasn’t allowed to,” who was sentenced to five years in prison.

He also pointed out, however, that he was not advocating harsher sentences – even for Manafort.

“I am not making the argument for *harsher sentences for anyone including Manafort*,” he tweeted. “I am simply pointing out the outrageous disparity between his treatment and others, disproportionately poor & people of colour.”


Calling out sentencing disparities

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Others were less coy about calling out sentencing disparities.

In federal cases, mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes – including drug, pornography, and gun convictions – have been laid out by Congress, not judges.

“There are non-wealthy minorities who went to jail for drug crimes who are screaming right now about how light of a sentence Manafort got,” the national security lawyer Bradley Moss tweeted.

“Go read the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions for drug offenders and tell me with a straight face being a rich, white male engaging in tax fraud and shady illegal lobbying for violent dictators who slaughter dissidents means you’ll face equivalent punishment in the courts,” he continued in a second tweet.

Moss was not the only one to make that point.

The Republican strategist Rick Wilson tweeted, “Try being a black kid with 1.00001 ounces of marijuana an not getting the mandatory minimum.”

Barb McQuade, a former US attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan who is now a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, also weighed in.

“Judge Ellis calls #Manafort’s guidelines range ‘quite high,'”she tweeted. “The guidelines are based on data from other cases, and are high here only because the conduct was so egregious. Why are the guidelines considered too high only when the defendant is wealthy and powerful?”


Joyce Vance: “Have faith, folks.”

Vance, a former US attorney for the Northern District of Alabama appointed by President Barack Obama, called for people to “have faith” in the justice system.

“Have faith, folks,” the current University of Alabama School of Law professor tweeted. “As a prosecutor, I didn’t like every ruling I got from a judge. It’s easy to be disappointed in the system when something like this happens. But the rule of law is still strong and we will get justice.

“Manafort was, of course, not charged with collusion,” Vance continued. “This is the equivalent of cutting a drug trafficker a break and sentencing lightly because he didn’t commit murder.”


Edward Snowden: “Your sentence derives from your proximity to power.”

Snowden, the US National Security Agency whistle-blower who leaked information about the US’s domestic surveillance program, said, “Your sentence derives from your proximity to power.”

“Manafort: 47 months for a lifelong carnival of criminality. “Petraeus: 0 days for trading the country’s highest secrets for a more favourable biography. “Manning: 35 YEARS for revealing evidence of actual war crimes to the press,” Snowden said.


Monica Lewinsky: “I had been threatened w/ 27 years …”

Star Shooter/MediaPunch/IPx

Lewinsky, the activist and public speaker who made headlines in the 1990s over fallout from her affair with President Bill Clinton, responded to Snowden’s tweet by saying she was threatened with 27 years in prison for actions she took in that case.

“Yup. I had been threatened w/ 27 years for filing a false affidavit + other actions trying desperately to keep an affair private,” Lewinsky said.


Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “In our current broken system, ‘justice’ isn’t blind. It’s bought.”

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Ocasio-Cortez, the US representative for the 14th Congressional District of New York, said, “Justice isn’t ‘blind,’ it’s bought.”

“Paul Manafort getting such little jail time for such serious crimes lays out for the world how it’s almost impossible for rich people to go to jail for the same amount of time as someone who is lower income,” she said. “In our current broken system, ‘justice’ isn’t blind. It’s bought.”

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