Paul Manafort got off easy with a light sentence handed down by both judges in his federal cases, and he probably thought he’d spend even less time in prison because his buddy President Donald Trump would ride to his rescue with a pardon. And then the Manhattan District Attorney played his hand.
Moments after Judge Amy Jackson Berman sentenced Trump’s former campaign manager to serve an addition 43 months on top of the 47 he received from Judge T.S. Ellis, bringing his total to seven and a half years behind bars, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance brought state charges against Manafort in New York.
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“The timing could not have been a coincidence,” wrote former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade for the Daily Beast.
“One obvious point of speculation is that these new charges were filed to prevent Manafort from escaping accountability for his crimes through a pardon,” she continued.
Trump still speaks of Manafort as if he’s a victim and he still praises him for not talking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Manafort had a chance to flip on Trump for a reduced sentence by signing a cooperation agreement, which he then proceeded to violate by lying to Mueller and acting as a spy for Trump to learn what he could abut the Russia investigation and pass that information to Trump through his lawyer.
The mistake cost Manafort dearly, as he faces life in prison since he is already 69-years-old.
Of course, he bet on a pardon from Trump. But even if Trump grants a pardon, he still faces prison, only it could be in a state facility instead of a federal one. And Trump’s pardon power does not extend to state crimes.
“That’s where state charges against Manafort can work as a backstop,” McQuade wrote. “The Manhattan DA’s indictment charges 16 counts, alleging mortgage fraud, falsifying business records and a scheme to defraud. While New York’s protective double jeopardy rules may create some litigation risk for the fraud charges, the counts for falsifying business records are unique to state law and seem unlikely to pose the same challenge.”
And since Trump is powerless to pardon him for state crimes, he could end up getting an even worse sentence than he has already received. It then puts Manafort in an uncomfortable spot because Vance could offer him a deal to flip on Trump.
“Is Vance’s goal simply to ensure that Manafort is held accountable by facing prison time for his crimes?” McQuade asked. “That alone would be a worthy goal for a defendant whose crimes were as pervasive and sophisticated as Manafort’s. Or is Vance instead thinking that by applying more pressure on Manafort, he can do what Mueller could not—convince him to cooperate by neutralizing President Trump’s pardon power. Checkmate?”
If Manafort is smart, he’ll see the writing on the wall and sing like a canary.
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