“If the people don’t have the facts, democracy can’t work.”
This terse statement above by federal Judge Amy Jackson was, for my money, by far the most telling at former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s stern sentencing March 13 in a Washington, D.C., courtroom.
Her statement starkly identified what, at heart, was the existential danger for America posed by Manafort’s manifold illegalities and, by extension, posed by the flagrant lies, deceptions and callous disregard for democratic rule of law and process of the Trump administration.
Jackson said from the bench on Wednesday, that Manafort’s crimes were “not just a failure to comply with some pesky regulations” but “lying to the American people and the American Congress … It is hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud and the extraordinary amount of money involved in this case,” according to a Washington Post report. (boldface mine)
This was not just criminality, she implied, but particularly despicable criminality, whose core is packed with exuberant, soulless, perhaps even treasonous deceit.
Manafort was motivated “not to support his family, but to sustain a lifestyle that was ostentatiously opulent and extravagantly lavish — more houses than a family can enjoy, more suits than one man can wear,” Judge Jackson added.
The judge indicated that her ruling Wednesday reflected her extreme disappointment that Manafort earlier this year breached his plea agreement with prosecutors by lying to the FBI, federal prosecutors and grand jurors during more than 50 hours of interviews, including in matters related to the still-ongoing probe of special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
She ended up slapping him with a 73-month sentence.
Thirty months of the sentence will run concurrently with last week’s 47-month sentence against Manafort by Judge T.S. Ellis III in an Alexandria, Virginia federal court, because the underlying conduct is the same. But the remaining 43 months of Jackson’s sentence will run consecutively — meaning it will begin after Ellis’ 47-month sentence is completed. In all, Manafort, who will turn 70 in a few weeks, will end up serving a maximum of 7.5 years in prison.
Andrew Wiessmann, a federal prosecutor in Manafort’s trial, said of the convicted defendant, “His work was corrosive to faith in the political process, both in the United States and abroad. He served to undermine, not promote, American ideals of honesty, transparency, and playing by the rules.” He further told the Post that there was “something wrong” with Manafort’s “moral compass.”
Speaking of honesty, Judge Jackson in her statement Wednesday speficically called out Manafort’s defense team for publicly — and “disingenuously,” meaning deceitfully — stating after last week’s earlier sentencing that the judge had ruled there was no collusion with Russia. Jackson emphasized Judge Ellis’ statements and her own on Wednesday had indicated no such thing, and that the defense, and the president, knew and know it. So-called “collusion” was simply not part of either case.
“The ‘no collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to matters at hand,” Jackson said. “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non sequitur. The ‘no collusion’ mantra is also not accurate, because the investigation is still ongoing.”
In scolding the defense (and indirectly the president), Judge Jackson reminded them pointedly that,
“Court is one of those places where facts still matter. … If the people don’t have the facts, democracy can’t work.”
That is what is precisely at stake here, as the administration continues its avalanche of obfuscation, deflection, misdirection and lies, and attempts to discredit and destabilize core U.S. democratic institutions and values. The president himself has told more than 9,000 false or misleading claims thus far during his presidency, according to the Washington Post Fact Checker feature. Tracking President Trump’s untruths has become something of a cottage industry.
And the lying didn’t end with Judge Jackson’s stern sentencing and rebuke of Manafort and his defense team. CBS News reported:
“[Manafort’s] attorney, Kevin Downing, told reporters after the sentencing, ‘For anyone who was in the courtroom today, what I’m about to say will not be a surprise: Judge Jackson conceded that there was no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case. That makes two courts that have ruled that no evidence of any Russian collusion.’”
In fact, though, that would be no courts. He’s lying.
Nonetheless, short of a presidential pardon, which will carry its own suite of headaches, Manafort’s problems are far from over as he faces more than 7 years behind bars.
Not long after he left court Wednesday, prosecutors in New York announced a 16-count grand jury indictment charging Manafort with mortgage fraud, falsifying business records and conspiracy.
Perhaps now is a good time to try and figure out how to halt the extreme mendacity exhibited by Manfort and the president that is now shredding the fabric of American society.