So Paul Manafort was given four years for his “decade-long, multimillion-dollar fraud scheme,” which drew outrage from the legal community and beyond.
“For context on Manafort’s 47 months in prison, my client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room,” Brooklyn public defender Scott Hechinger wrote on Twitter.
Oh, Scott, that’s because your client has you and not some high-priced lawyer who had him wheeled into the courtroom. (Manafort has gout, a particularly painful type of arthritis that is called “the rich man’s disease” for it’s general association with an equally rich diet of meat, seafood, fructose and alcohol.. Still, I have known people who were dying of cancer who dragged themselves to work every day, so gout — not the end of the world.)
What particularly pricked critics of Judge T.S. Ellis III’s ruling — which could have Manafort serving as little as 22 months — was his description of the defendant as an admirable man who had led “an otherwise blameless life.”
It’s an interesting turn of phrase given the Judeo-Christian history of this country. Christianity teaches that man is born into the original sin of Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Redemption is through baptism into the teachings of Jesus, the sacrificed God made man. So according to the nominal religious foundations of this culture, no one is blameless. Indeed, the nuns used to instruct us that if a baby died before baptism, he or she went off to Purgatory. Poor baby, and all for a case of bad parental timing.
But the courts are not designed to assess moral, religious and philosophical blame. That’s for a higher court, so to speak. No, the judicial system is designed to weigh the merits of a case and the merits alone. Indeed, you are told that over and over again when you go for jury duty. In Manafort’s case, a jury in the Eastern District of Virginia convicted him on eight counts of tax and bank fraud. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller recommended sentencing guidelines of 19 1/2 to 24 years. Ellis found that excessive.
It’s in a judge’s discretion to temper justice with mercy. And we want this quality in a judge. But this is not the case of a boy who stole bread to feed his widowed mother and siblings. This is more like the case of the boy who became Tony Montana because his widowed mother and siblings needed oceanfront property in Palm Beach. You may ask a jury to find for guilt or innocence in a vacuum, but a judge doesn’t pronounce a verdict in a vacuum. He considers the pattern of a man’s behavior. And what is the pattern of Manafort’s? The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer finds a pattern of tax evasion, bank deception, expense inflation, backstabbing, attempted witness tampering and, perhaps most important, consulting with strongmen and dictators who have inflicted irreparable harm on their countrymen.
“In an otherwise blameless life, he acted with impunity, as if the laws never applied to him,” Foer writes. “When presented with a chance to show remorse to the court, he couldn’t find that sentiment within his being.”
Now Manafort faces sentencing in a DC District Court after pleading guilty to two charges and agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors — a deal he violated, according to Mueller. Judge Amy Berman Jackson agreed, voiding the deal. Sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 13. Manafort faces up to 10 years.
It remains to be seen if she considers his “otherwise blameless life.”