I don’t know if anyone anticipated Paul Manafort receiving such a vast downward revision from the sentencing guidelines – just under four years when federal sentencing guidelines leaned toward more than twenty (19-24 years). But if there was a judge who was going to wrench the scales in Manafort’s favor it was going to be Judge Ellis. During the trial Ellis made no effort to hide his sympathy for Manafort and hostility toward the government’s case. He attacked the government’s lawyering. He attacked the government’s case. He questioned the existence of the Special Counsel’s office itself. It came up again and again. Ellis was even compelled on to rule against his own manifest partiality in at least one instance.
Ellis sang a similar tune at sentencing. He called the recommendation “excessive”. He praised Manafort for being “a generous person” who was “involved in lots of good things” and for living “an otherwise blameless life.” One might be excused for thinking Ellis had been giving Manafort a job recommendation rather than a sentence for a list of felonies.
No one should go to jail for being a sleazy huckster. But saying Paul Manafort had lived a “blameless life” is an almost comical verdict for a man who is widely recognized as one of the creators of the modern influence peddling trade and who worked for some of the shadiest dictators in the world. If anything I think Ellis did us a favor by not only showing his cards but shoving them in our collective faces. He left no doubt that he was on Manafort’s side throughout the trial and down until today. The sentence is rightly seen in that light.
There’s no way this isn’t hitting the sentencing jackpot for Manafort. The problem for him is that he needs to hit the jackpot twice. He gets sentenced next week with a similar sentencing recommendation in Washington, DC. And, unlike Judge Ellis, Judge Amy Berman Jackson wasn’t blowing Manafort kisses at trial.