The federal judge sentencing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on Thursday wanted to make one thing clear.
Manafort’s case does not include “any allegation that he … colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis declared during the sentencing hearing in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.
Manafort, 69, faces what could amount to a life sentence, with a potential sentencing range of 19 to 24 years. Manafort was convicted by a jury last year on 8 of 18 in the bank fraud and tax fraud case. The jury hung on the remaining 10 counts. Ellis is expected to hand down Manafort’s sentence shortly.
Ellis telegraphed in other ways his continued skepticism about special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, saying at one point “there is much discussion” about why the special prosecutor has the Manafort case.
Ellis said that he concluded that it was legitimate for Mueller to bring the case but that didn’t mean he had decided the “wisdom” or the “appropriateness” of the special counsel having the authority to bring the case.
Before the judge called what was expected to be a brief recess, he heard Manafort’s objections to the pre-sentence report in the case. So far, he has not sided with Manafort on any of his objections.
The judge also denied Manafort credit for accepting responsibility, which could have helped lower his sentence. But the judge did note that he would “take into account” the 50 hours that Manafort spent talking to Mueller’s office before the plea agreement fell apart.
Ellis referred to the case on more than one occasion as “unusual.”
“It’s unusual because of the attention this case gets,” Ellis noted. “Look at the courtroom.”
The courtroom was packed with onlookers.