GOP Judge Disgraces Federal Bench In Manafort Sentence, Hearing


A Republican-appointed federal judge imposed on March 7 one-fifth of the federal guideline sentence on former Trump 2016 Campaign Manager Paul J. Manafort Jr. for massive bank and tax frauds, thereby sending a national message that wealthy, politically well-connected defendants can cheat justice if they pursue decades of crime at a high-level and with the right legal and political connections.

thomas s ellis iii federal judgeSenior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III (shown at left in a file photo), appointed to the bench by Republican President Ronald Reagan, imposed Manafort's sentence 47-month sentence at the end of a three-hour hearing during which the judge also ordered restitution and ordered a fine of $50,000.

Trump defenders then leaped to expand on the judge's anti-prosecution sneers, which contrast with the judgment of a pro-Trump juror who explained post-trial that the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming.

The pro-defendant bias of Ellis, which had appeared sporadically during Manafort's trial last summer, became apparent during the sentencing hearing in several ways described below and most notably by the judge's conclusion that Manafort, aside from his convictions, had "otherwise led a blameless life."

Ellis's stunning sentence came after even he remarked that Manafort (shown at right in a mug shot) had failed to express regret for his crimes, which included concealing $55 million in income in 30 different overseas bank accounts to avoid income taxes. Manafort amassed his wealth in large part by serving foreign dictators accused of massive corruption, elections fraud, torture and other tyrannical behavior.  

paul manafort mugThe sentence, which will be reduced nine months to account for Manafort's pre-trial detention, was far too lenient, especially given the mind-boggling evidence of corruption by Manafort and his gang. Shocking also was Manafort's lack of remorse in his four-minute statement and his breach of trust on the global stage.

Decades ago, Manafort and such previous partners as Roger Stone and Lee Atwater helped pioneer a hybrid form of campaign work and lobbying that helped install officials and then exploited their powers on behalf of special interests.

Manafort's most recent consultancy partner was Rick Gates, who went on to obtain a high-ranking position with the Trump Inauguration Committee and become Deputy National Finance Chairman of the Republican National Committee before being indicted on corruption charges and reaching a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors.

The judge's demonstrable bias in serving as a pro-Manafort advocate at times during trial and during Thursday's hearing added to the charade of a honest rnc logojudiciary supposedly functioning in the public interest.

This editor attended Thursday's hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, sitting about 25 feet behind Manafort. He sat in a wheelchair fo reasons largely undisclosed to the public and wore a dark green jail jumpsuit with the words "Alexandria Inmate" in big white letters signifying his pre-sentence detention.

That contrasted with luxury custom suits that Manafort had sported in decades as a high-level political lobbyist and strategist for GOP candidates and notorious dictators.

Before addressing below details of Thursday's hearing and the overall prosecution, we explain the tone of this column, including its headline.

konstantin klimnikThe Justice Integrity Project is a non-partisan organization that has defended such GOP defendants as the late Alaskan Sen. Ted Stevens from Justice Department over-reach. We rarely ascribe partisan political motives to judges except in the most extreme cases. We focus mostly on reporting, not commentary.

But for this story, I draw on considerable reporting and legal experience (including nearly three decades as a member of the bar and previous experience as a federal judge's law clerk) to provide my opinion that Manafort's judge embarrassed himself and the federal system by his transparently biased hearing. The proceeding's flaws extend well beyond the shockingly light term and fine.

The judge said a fine higher than $50,000 might seem punitive -- for a criminal who spent a decade leading a crime gang avoiding taxes and committing bank frauds with the complicity global oligarchs. In one such investigative thread, authorities have said Manafort gave polling data Trump For Presidenton the 2016 campaign to Konstantine Kilimnik, right, a trainee of the Russian Ministry of Defense,

Kilimnik, according to House of Trump, House of Putin by Craig Unger, among others, began work for Manafort in 2005 when Manafort was representing the Ukrainian oligarch Akhmetov and who also opened a consulting firm in 2015 that had ties to Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that helped elect Trump. 

The judge, with 32 years of experience on the federal bench, showed early in the case that he adopted the Trump line that Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III was unfairly targeting Manafort. The judge had mocked prosecutors saying they didn't really care about Manafort's conduct because they only wanted to squeeze the defendant to pressure the president.

robert mueller full face fileThat judicial posture prompted so much public outrage early in the trial, as manifested in newspaper headlines, that Ellis kept his feelings largely under wraps after that until the sentencing hearing, where he made a great show of proceeding carefully and at length while ultimately minimizing the enormity of Manafort's crimes.

Most striking to this reporter was that the judge failed to reference Manafort's gross abuse of his high position of public trust as a presidential campaign manager who had taken the job for free with a clear-cut goal of using the position to sell influence to keep living in luxury..

Notable also was the judge's tolerance for Manafort's unwillingness to provide his financial information to the court's probation office so that the court could assess how many assets Manafort has available for a fine or restitution. It would have been simple for the judge to postpone sentencing until Manafort and his lawyers totaled up his millions of dollars in assets.

The judge's conduct went far beyond traditional political partisan politics and almost defies explanation. And that opens the door extremely sinister potential rationales, with the judge's motives potentially involving his role as a longtime "fixer" for sensitive legal disputes within the intelligence community, as amplified below.

The Sentence

Sentencing guidelines, based on sentences for similar crimes and the defendant's background, prompted court career officials to call for a recommended a term of 19.5 to 24 years for Manafort's crimes. Prosecutors said the calculation was correct but declined to call for a specific term. The judge congratulated them for that failure, saying that he would have held it against prosecutors had recommended a specific term.

The judge accepted the defense recommendation that he recommend to the Trump Justice Department that Manafort serve his sentence at the minimum security federal facility in Cumberland, Maryland. The judge rejected prosecution efforts to tap Manafort's homes worth more than $4 million for a fine, saying that $50,000 was enough punishment combined with restitution to victims.

kevin downing head portraitAfterward, lead defense counsel Kevin Downing, right, spun the media with a brief comment outside the courthouse claiming that the case proved, "most importantly" that Manafort was not involved with any "collusion" with any "Russian government official."

That is like the Trump administration claims of "no collusion." It is a half-truth deception at best that ignores how Manafort was heavily involved with other Russians who were well-connected to officials -- and that judge Ellis had forbidden any discussion of collusion during the trial.

Downing's comment failed to note also that prosecutors were keeping such information confidential to protect their ongoing investigation of corruption in the Trump administration and that a parallel prosecution occurred in the District of Columbia.

In September, Manafort pleaded guilty to two charges in that case that could bring him up to 10 more additional years in prison at sentencing next Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman. She could impose a term consecutive to that Ellis imposed on Manafort or a concurrent term.

In a column to be published over the weekend, we shall note separately below a brief and exclusive interview that we conducted with Downing regarding his previous career as a senior litigation counsel focusing on tax cheats. We asked him why he did not prosecute Manafort, his current client, for tax evasion when he had the chance.

 Larger Context

oleg deripaskaAs larger context, Manafort had made millions of dollars working for Ukrainian and Russia-linked oligarchs.

One was Oleg Deripaska (right), founder of Basic Element and close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin (shown below at right meeting Trump at the G-20 Summit in 2017).

Another oligarch client of Manafort's was Rinat Akmetov, a former Soviet counter-intelligence officer who became a K Street lobbyist. In June 2016 when Manafort was leading the Trump presidential campaign, Akmetov attended the vladimir putin djt g 20 2017notorious Trump Tower meeting with Manafort, the president's son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

A Russian lawyer had obtained the meeting by promising to provide opposition research about Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, whose campaign was later damaged by what U.S. intelligence community sources have called Russian hacks of Democratic National Committee and Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta emails.

Furthermore, Manafort's trial before Ellis in Virginia showed that he received more than $10 million in fraudulent loans in 2016 from a Chicago bank whose top executive believed that he was going to receive a high-level Trump administration appointment, perhaps as Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon, because of his loans to Manafort.

Manafort's admission of guilt settled both the Virginia and District of Columbia cases. Manafort admitted guilt to all of the Virginia and District charges, not just the ones to which he pleaded guilty.

Although the judge imposed up to $24 million in restitution, including for more than $6 million in taxes and penalties, arguments indicated that restitution will only be for actual losses of victims and thus could be far less than that amount. The judge ruled that $50,000 fine was enough punishment besides restitution even through prosecutors sought a much higher amount based on what they described as Manafort's unknown level of assets.

Former CBS News Anchor and Managing Editor Dan Rather told MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow that the sentence seemed like a "rebuke" to the special counsel's investigation of the Trump administration and a "slap on the wrist to another elite, well-connected Washington big shot.".

Similarly, Politico reporter Josh Gerstein told Maddow that the consensus of lawyers and reporters he spoke with in the courtroom before the hearing was an expectation of a sentence between 7 and 10 to 12 years. Gerstein noted that Manafort did not seem to express much contrition in his four-minute statement and that Ellis continued his pattern of hostility to prosecutors shown early in the trial. 

A More Sinister Larger Context 

During the trial last August before Ellis, the prosecution presented a powerful case with 27 witnesses supported by nearly 400 exhibits to paul manafort cnnshow that Manafort (shown in a screenshot as 2016 Trump campaign manager) paid minimal taxes on $55 million in income hidden in overseas banks from 2010 to 2014.

The bank accounts were located primarily in Cyprus, a preferred locale for Eastern European money launderers. The money was alleged to have come from allies of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, including Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

The government also charged Manafort with repeatedly submitting false documents during the years 2015 and 2016 to obtain millions of dollars more in loans from three U.S. banks with fraudulent financial documentation after Manafort's income from oligarchs dried up because of the 2014 overthrow of the Ukraine' president.

The judge made a number of snide remarks about the prosecutors, as reported by, among others, New York Times reporters, Emily Cochrane and Sharon LaFraniere in a column last August, We wrote about T. S. Ellis III, the judge in Mr. Manafort’s trial, in August. In it, they described how Ellis " angrily confronted Greg D. Andres," the lead prosecutor.

“Look at me,” the judge demanded, slamming his hand on the wooden ledge. “When you look down, it’s as if to say, you know, that’s B.S., I don’t want to listen to any more from you.”

“Don’t look down. Don’t roll your eyes,” he told Mr. Andres.

rick gates cropped aug 2018The defense presented no witnesses and argued during closing arguments that any wrongdoing was committed by Manafort's junior partner Richard "Rick" Gates, left, who is now a prosecution witness, and other largely unnamed players. Gates seeks leniency from prosecutors via a plea deal to reduced charges. Gates.  a former deputy national finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, is required by his plea agreement to testify honestly or face renewed prosecution.

Prosecutor Greg Andres argued that “The star witness in this case is the documents,” and not Gates. The prosecution entered 388 documents. The defense entered 10.

The defense closing argument seemed weak and scattered, according to many courtroom observers, including this editor. It thus seemed possible that Manafort, instead of seeking a plea deal, was relying on some non-courtroom strategy, such as a possible pardon from Trump.

On Thursday, the judge said several times Manafort's actions in defrauding government of an estimated $6 million in taxes and penalties constituted "theft" from fellow citizens.

But the judge is widely regarded as lenient on white collar crime suspects while at times imposing extremely tough sentences on others, according to such legal commentators as former federal prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks and longtime Harvard Law School constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe.

In one such case, Ellis ordered a 20-year sentence for John Walker Lindh, an American captured in Afghanistan after the 2001 invasion and arguably tortured while being interrogated while critically ill, according to Justice Department whistleblower Jesselyn Radack's account in her memoir Traitor

"In 2009," according to an account by law professor Charles Tiefer in Forbes Magazine, "Ellis sentenced [former U.S. Congressman William] Jefferson to 13 years, the longest sentence of any Congressman to that date. (After further twists and turns Ellis let off Jefferson in December 2017 for five years time served.) It seems that while Judge Ellis can sympathize with Manafort, the Republican presidential campaign manager, he did not sympathize with Jefferson [an African-American representing a black district in New Orleans]."

paula duncanStrangely, in the Manafort case, the judge referenced the lack of jury conviction on 10 of the 18 charges in the trial before him. But he failed to note that the hung jury on the 10 charges was with a jury that was 11-1 for conviction, according to former juror Paula Duncan, right, and that Manafort's guilty plea in the District of Columbia case conceded that all of the Virginia charges were valid.

The Fix Is In, Again?

Former CIA Director John Brennan (shown below in a file photo) called the sentence "extraordinarily lenient" and one that "tells a lot more" about the judge than the john brennan twitterdefendant.

Wayne Madsen, a former Navy intelligence officer, made similar comments to Brennan (whom he has often criticized in the past on separate issues) with a column on March 8 entitled Judge T. S. Ellis is a veteran Iran-Contra scandal cover-up jurist.

Madsen, a widely published columnist and author of 16 books, in effect "tells a lot more" about Ellis than any other commentator has been willing to say. His subscription-only column, excerpted here with permission, states in part:

The federal court in Alexandria traditionally handles cases involving the Central Intelligence Agency and is known as a "rocket docket" for quickly shotgunning such cases, many of them embarrassing and politically-sensitive, through the legal system, with as little as possible publicity.

He describes Ellis, who was born in Bogata, Colombia, as an arch-conservative installed onto the bench in 1987 by the Reagan Administration in part to handle cases arising from the Iran-Contra narcotics and arms-smuggling scandal that was implicating high-ranking members of the Reagan-Bush administration. During the same era, Manafort's consulting company was helping ruthless dictators around the world.

Fast forward to today:

The judiciary and the CIA are like many U.S. institutions, split into factions over where to draw the line over domestic threats to the U.S. Constitution and related systems of government.

Many Republicans remain united around President Trump whereas even such conservative bastions as the Justice Department and military contain strong factions determined to follow evidence when it compromises the president and his appointees.

President Trump has called Manafort "a very good man" who has suffered unfairly.

But Duncan, the juror who described herself as a strong Trump supporter, said she would be "very disappointed" if the president issued a pardon. She told MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell that Manafort "needs to pay the price."


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Previous Justice Integrity Project Coverage

Justice Integrity Project, Jury Gets Mind-Boggling Manafort Tax, Fraud Case, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 16, 2018. A federal jury in Virginia began deliberations on Aug. 16 of charges that President Trump's 2016 campaign manager committed astonishing levels of multi-million-dollar corruption.

Following a 12-day trial, the Alexandria jury began considering the tax, bank fraud and conspiracy charges filed by the Justice Department's Trump special counsel against 2016 Trump Campaign Manager Paul J. Manafort for conduct that stemmed almost entirely from Manafort's years as adviser to a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party before he joined the Trump campaign in the spring of 2016.

Justice Integrity Project, Manafort Case Shows Trump, Bush-era DoJ Crimes, Misconduct, Andrew Kreig, Dec. 5, 2018. Among the remarkable Mueller probe revelations last week was the claim that attorneys for former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort have been sharing confidential information about the special counsel’s investigation with the legal team of “Individual 1,” aka President Trump.

A number of prominent legal pundits soon warned that such cooperation was not only rare but could be regarded as criminally illegal and / or unethical, thereby triggering potential liability for President Trump, Manafort and the lawyers involved.

Potential problems could include obstruction of justice (under the theory that the actions could have the intent and effect of undermining the special counsel’s investigation). The conduct also could provide grounds for impeachment of Trump and potential bar sanctions against attorneys involved.

More importantly, the controversy illustrates continuing tension between the federal enforcement “community” and the opportunists (or worse) who operate within the justice system or on its fringes. Such conflicts are especially important and outrageous as the Trump administration draws upon some of the very worst Bush administration attorneys.

Among the many such shocking situations, this column focuses on three such officials who have become extremely prominent and otherwise newsworthy, in part because of their ties to President Trump and his team.

Related News Coverage

March 9

washington post logoWashington Post, Next judge to sentence Manafort has already been thrust onto national stage, Spencer S. Hsu​, March 9, 2019. The next federal judge to sentence former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has already been thrust onto the national stage during the year-long run of special counsel cases.

paul manafort mugU.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, set to decide Wednesday whether she will add prison time for Manafort, is the same judge who was recently in the spotlight for the Roger Stone case (by being prosecuted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team).

She comes primed for her role by three decades as an attorney and judge dissecting sensitive political corruption and white-collar criminal cases in the nation’s capital.

Dolan recalled winning the first felony conviction of a Virginia sitting state judge as a special prosecutor with Jackson. It was the early 1990s, and many jurors in Norfolk had not seen a female trial lawyer, he said. “They went quite quickly from, ‘Who is this little woman’ to ‘Who is this sharp lawyer?’ ” Dolan said.

The Baltimore-born daughter of a U.S. Army-trained physician, Jackson, 64, earned bachelor’s and law degrees from Harvard University. She prosecuted violent and sex crimes at the U.S. attorney’s office in the District for six years, then in 1986 joined a law firm that became part of Venable.

washington post logoWashington Post, Is Paul Manafort’s sentence too light? He fared worse than many fraudsters, data shows, Justin Jouvenal, Julie Tate and Rachel Weiner, March 9, 2019 (print ed.). U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III surprised many when he departed from federal sentencing guidelines in Manafort’s case. But the average prison sentence in similar bank-fraud cases was about 31 months.

But a review of data for all 452 similar cases nationwide in fiscal 2018 show President Trump’s former campaign chairman received a sentence that was somewhat stiffer than other federal defendants’ prison terms.

The average prison sentence in such bank-fraud cases was about 31 months, roughly 16 months shorter than the 47 months Manafort received for convictions in federal court in Northern Virginia, according to an analysis of court data maintained by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC).

But Manafort, who was convicted by a jury in August 2018, fared much better when compared with other defendants who were also convicted by federal juries. The average sentence for those trials, 22 in all, was 98 months, according to the analysis.

March 8

washington post logoWashington Post, Manafort gets far less prison time than sentencing guidelines call for, Rachel Weiner, Lynh Bui, Justin Jouvenal and Devlin Barrett, March 8, 2019 (print ed.). Paul Manafort, who once served as President Trump’s campaign chairman, was sentenced to nearly four years in prison Thursday for cheating on his taxes and bank fraud — a far lesser sentence than the roughly 20 years he had faced under federal sentencing guidelines.

U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III called that guidelines calculation “excessive” and sentenced the longtime lobbyist instead to 47 months in prison.

Apparently aware that he might be criticized for not imposing a longer prison term, Ellis told a packed courtroom in Alexandria, Va. that anyone who didn’t think he punishment was tough enough should “go and spend a day, a week in jail or in the federal penitentiary. He has to spend 47 months.”

Wearing a green jail uniform that said “ALEXANDRIA INMATE” on the back, Manafort, 69, sat in a wheelchair for the entire hearing and did not visibly react when the sentence was read by the judge. At times while the judge spoke, Manafort closed his eyes.

washington post logoWashington Post, Legal community lashes out at inequity of ‘mind-boggling’ sentence, Reis Thebault and Michael Brice-Saddler, March 8, 2019. Manafort’s case was immediately perceived as a high-profile instance of the justice system working one way for a wealthy, well-connected man, while working in another, harsher, way for indigent defendants facing lesser crimes.

“Paul Manafort’s lenient 4-year sentence — far below the recommended 20 years despite extensive felonies and post-conviction obstruction — is a reminder of the blatant inequities in our justice system that we all know about, because they reoccur every week in courts across America,” said Ari Melber, a legal analyst for NBC News, in a Thursday-night tweet.

Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor and expert in financial crimes, said Manafort’s sentence was very light “by any stretch of the imagination.” Manafort, who once agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors but then was found to have lied to them, got a sentence that resembled someone’s who did not renege on their cooperation agreement, Levin said.

“His crimes went on for an extremely long time, at the very highest levels of our government and deeply affected our democracy,” Levin told The Washington Post. “To get away with it for such a short sentence is something that is absolutely mind-boggling.”

Scott Hechinger, a senior staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, an organization that provides legal representation to defendants who cannot afford it, used one of his recent clients, who was just offered a 36-to-72-month sentence, as an example. The crime? Stealing $100-worth of quarters from a residential laundry room. Hechinger’s client may wind up doing more time than Manafort, a man who defrauded the Internal Revenue Service out of $6 million. Hechinger listed a half dozen more examples.

  • Washington Post, The Fix: Manafort’s lies become more bizarre, March 8, 2019 (print ed.).
  • Washington Post, Post asks court to unseal records in Manafort case, March 8, 2019 (print ed.).

wayne madesen report logo

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Opinion: Judge T. S. Ellis is a veteran Iran-Contra scandal cover-up jurist, Wayne Madsen (left, syndicated columnist, author of 16 books, including two about CIA operations, and former Navy intelligence officer and NSA analyst), March 8, 2019 (subscription required, excerpted here with permission).

wayne madsen cia front cover SmallT.S. Ellis was nominated by Ronald Reagan on July 1, 1987. Ellis was placed on the Alexandria, Virginia bench to influence what was expected to be a number of trials involving Iran-Contra figures indicted for their involvement in the guns-for-narcotics-for-cash scandal that almost brought down the Reagan administration.

The federal court in Alexandria traditionally handles cases involving the Central Intelligence Agency and is known as a "rocket docket" for quickly shotgunning such cases, many of them embarrassing and politically-sensitive, through the legal system, with as little as possible publicity.

Ellis, who was born in Bogota, Colombia, was nominated by Reagan on July 1, 1987. He was confirmed by the Senate on August 5, 1987.... During the 1980s and concurrent with the Iran-Contra affair, Manafort's company, Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly (BMSK), was involved in propping up dictators in countries where the CIA was also active.

Ellis can be summed up as follows: "born in Colombia and raised by the CIA."

March 7

ny times logoNew York Times, Manafort Is Sentenced to Nearly 4 Years; Punishment Falls Short of Guidelines, Sharon LaFraniere, March 7, 2019. Paul Manafort, the political consultant and Trump presidential campaign chairman whose lucrative work in Ukraine and ties to well-connected Russians made him a target of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was sentenced on Thursday to nearly four years in prison in the financial fraud case that left his grand lifestyle and power-broker reputation in ruins.

The sentence in the highest-profile criminal case mounted by the special counsel’s office was far lighter than the 19- to 24-year prison term recommended under sentencing guidelines. Judge T. S. Ellis III of the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., said that although Mr. Manafort’s crimes were “very serious,” following the guidelines would have resulted in an unduly harsh punishment.

A team of Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors sat glum-faced as Judge Ellis delivered his decision. Mr. Manafort, who has gout and came to the hearing in a wheelchair with his foot heavily bandaged, had asked the judge for compassion. “To say I feel humiliated and ashamed would be a gross understatement,” he said in a barely audible voice, reading from a prepared statement.

Forbes, The Judge Who Let Manafort Off Easy With 47 Months Is An Arch-Conservative, Charles Tiefer,  March 7, 2019. It is striking that a judge just sentenced Paul Manafort, a major target of the Mueller investigation, to only 47 months in prison. The Sentencing Guidelines justified a sentence well above fifteen years. It was all-important that Manafort, who had been the head of the Trump presidential campaign, receive a strong sentence.

This was partly for the general reason in sentencing, to send the message to potential malefactors of the consequences. But, it was also needed to persuade Manafort to tell Mueller (and, eventually, in some forum, the public) the truth about President Trump and Russia.

Instead, this weak sentence sends these kind of messages of a conservative judge: it is not so bad to use Republican connections to cash in with Putin’s allies; Trump’s campaign manager is worthy of much, much more respect than in the Sentencing Guidelines; Mueller’s quest for the Russia connection deserves little help, and some messages.

Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis was nominated to the bench in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan, who of course favored very conservative picks. Before then, he had worked since 1970 for Hunton and Williams, a very well known, quite conservative, Richmond firm.

President Reagan nominated Judge Ellis to the Eastern District of Virginia. Presidents have a special reason to want to stack that particular court with strong conservatives. The Pentagon and the CIA are in that district. There is a great desire among conservatives to stack that district court to handle the cases that concern national security brought in that district, including espionage cases.

Take a comparison of the Manafort case with another prosecution of a political figure, a black Democratic Congressman from a black district in Louisiana named William J. Jefferson. (I was a peripheral observer of that case. The FBI had raided Jefferson’s Congressional office and carried off his computer hard drive. The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the violation of Congressional independence by that raid, and I was the principal witness (because I knew the established limits on prosecution tactics as a former House General Counsel and I was now a professor.))

Jefferson’s case was basically bribery. It was nationally famous because agents raiding his house found cash in the freezer.

Manafort may have gotten off easy with four years, but Ellis threw the book at Jefferson. In 2009 Ellis sentenced Jefferson to 13 years, the longest sentence of any Congressman to that date. (After further twists and turns Ellis let off Jefferson in December 2017 for five years time served.) It seems that while Judge Ellis can sympathize with Manafort, the Republican presidential campaign manager, he did not sympathize with Jefferson.

Everything now depends on the sentence Manafort receives in his other case, and whether it is consecutive or concurrent. Imagine the relief for Trump if it is a sentence no longer than 47 months and it runs concurrently. If Manafort had gotten (or still gets) a sentence of more than 15 years, Trump would face the problem of pardoning Manafort to prevent him from experiencing great pressure to cooperate with Mueller.

The press and public have been waiting for the first use of the pardon power as a major statement about Trump.

Now, Trump might just get off and not need to display the pardon weapon. Trump should say "Thank you, Judge Ellis."

The Atlantic, Commentary: The ‘Otherwise Blameless Life’ of Paul Manafort, Franklin Foer, Right, March 7, 2019. Trump’s former campaign chair atlantic logohas always acted franklin foer Customwith impunity, as if the laws never applied to him, “He has lived an otherwise blameless life,” said Judge T. S. Ellis as he sentenced Paul Manafort to just 47 months in prison on Thursday.

In an otherwise blameless life, Paul Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations.

In an otherwise blameless life, he helped Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.

In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.

In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was kicked out of the lobbying firm he co-founded, accused of inflating his expenses and cutting his partners out of deals.

In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.

Sept. 15

GOP Lobbyist's Crime Career

washington post logoWashington Post, Guilty plea exposes hardball tactics Manafort used to thrive in ‘swamp,’ Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Matt Zapotosky, Sept. 15, 2018. Before he was the Trump campaign chairman, the lobbyist went to extreme lengths in a secret effort to help a Ukrainian politician, court papers show.

Before he was Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort embraced extreme tactics in his lobbying efforts: He schemed “to plant some stink” and spread stories that a jailed Ukrainian politician was a murderer. He enlisted a foreign politician who was secretly on his payroll to deliver a message to President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. And he gleefully fueled allegations that an Obama Cabinet member who had spoken out against his Ukrainian client was an anti-Semite, according to court papers.

With his guilty plea Friday, Manafort admitted the lengths to which he went to manipulate the American political system and the media for massive profit, exposing how he thrived in the Washington swamp that Trump railed against during his campaign.

The president has dismissed the allegations against his former campaign chairman as run-of-the-mill lobbying — and has even contemplated pardoning him. But new details revealed Friday show how far beyond the law Manafort went in pursuit of his goals.

By pleading guilty, Manafort agreed that he knew he was required by law to publicly report that a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party was paying him and his stable of lobbyists, which included former leaders of Austria, Poland and Italy.

Instead, he operated in the dark, working diligently to keep his lobbying for Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych a secret and pocketing millions routed through offshore bank accounts to hide his work and avoid paying taxes.

“This is extraordinary,” said Michael McFaul, a Stanford University professor who served as U.S. ambassador to Moscow.

“I was well aware at the time that Manafort was making efforts to present Yanukovych in the best light,” McFaul said, but added that he had no idea of the extent of Manafort’s elaborate schemes.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis, Robert Mueller may have just eliminated one of Trump’s biggest complaints, Philip Bump, Sept. 15, 2018 (print edition). Trump likes to complain about the cost of the Mueller probe. It might just have paid for itself.

If we assume the same cost-per-day for the investigation that was reported through March of this year, the probe has so far cost the government about $26 million. That’s the $17 million through March and another $9 million since.

But here’s the thing, pointed out by journalist Marcy Wheeler on her personal site: The Mueller probe may have just paid for itself.

Why? Because part of the plea agreement reached between Mueller and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort includes forfeiture of certain property to the government. While it’s not clear how much value will be extracted from that forfeiture, there’s reason to think that it could more than pay for what Mueller has incurred so far.

Sept. 14

cbs news logoCBS News, Paul Manafort will cooperate with special counsel, Paula Reid, Clare Hymes, Steven Portnoy and Jeff Pegues, Sept. 14, 2018 (4:16 min. video). Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort entered a guilty plea to two felonies Friday. He will also be cooperating with the special counsel in its Russia investigation, prosecutor Andrew Weissman told the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Friday.

Weissman referred to Manafort's plea deal as a cooperation agreement in court Friday, which could jeopardize his chances of a presidential pardon. In late July, an attorney for Manafort told CBS News' Paula Reid that there was "no chance" his client would cooperate with the special counsel in its Russia probe. It is not yet clear whether Manafort's cooperation is related to President Trump or whether he would provide information on some other aspect of the investigation.

Manafort appeared at the hearing with three attorneys, including Kevin Downing, who said nothing during the hearing. The government brought a large contingent, though special counsel Robert Mueller was not present. Several lawyers, FBI and IRS agents who had worked on the case attended the hearing, occupying two-and-a-half rows in the audience. They were all hugging and congratulating each other at the end of the hearing.

The president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was asked by Reid (CBS Washington correspondent) whether he had been told by Manafort's attorneys that the cooperation deal will not require him to share anything related to the president. "I'm confident," he replied, without saying whether Manafort's lawyers had given him this assurance.

Manafort is pleading guilty to charges the special counsel filed Friday on conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The former includes money laundering, tax fraud, failing to file Foreign Bank Accounts, and the latter includes the charge of witness tampering.

In August, Manafort was found guilty on eight out of 18 counts of financial crimes in his first trial in Virginia. The jury was deadlocked on the remaining 10 counts, which ended in mistrial. As part of his plea agreement, Manafort has admitted his guilt to the rest of the bank fraud counts in Virginia, and in return, the government will not retry the other counts in which a mistrial was declared.

Manafort is still subject to whatever sentence is imposed in the Virginia trial. And the judge may decide to run those sentences consecutively or concurrently. In Washington, Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that based on the guidelines, which are determined based on factors such as Manafort's involvement and the nature of the crimes, he faces a range of 210 to 262 months and a $400,000 fine. But that is more than the statutory maximum which is five years, which the judge cannot exceed.

The charges were filed in a superseding criminal information -- a formal criminal charge -- which lays out the facts of the offense and is often the precursor to the announcement of a deal.

Sept. 13

ABC News, Paul Manafort and special counsel reach tentative plea deal: Sources, Katherine Faulders, Trish Turner, John Santucci and Matthew Mosk, Sept. 13, 2018. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has tentatively agreed to a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller that will head off his upcoming trial, sources familiar with the negotiations tell ABC News.

The deal is expected to be announced in court Friday, but it remains unclear whether Manafort has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors or is simply conceding to a guilty plea, paul manafort mugwhich would allow him to avoid the stress and expense of trial, according to three sources with knowledge of the discussions.

Manafort, shown in a mug shot, and his most senior defense attorneys spent more than four hours Thursday in discussions with a team of special prosecutors who are involved in the ongoing investigation into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

ABC News spotted the team arriving in a dark SUV Thursday morning, pulling into a secret entrance out of public view at the building where Special Counsel Robert Mueller is based.

Aug. 29

washington post logoWashington Post, Paul Manafort wants to move his D.C. trial to Roanoke, saying Washington jurors are biased, Spencer S. Hsu, Aug.29, 2018. Attorneys for Paul Manafort are asking to have his coming money laundering and conspiracy trial moved from Washington, D.C., to Roanoke, arguing his fraud convictions in Alexandria this month worsened pretrial publicity in the nation’s capital.

In court filings Wednesday, his defense team also claimed a more pro-Republican jury, as they believe would be found in Roanoke, would decide his case more fairly. That repeats an argument the Manafort defense made, and lost, in asking to move his Virginia case out of Alexandria.

The defense for President Trump’s former campaign chairman told a federal judge in D.C. Manafort “has become an unwilling player in the larger drama” between Trump and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and asserted that nowhere are potential jurors more biased against him than in the District because of its partisan makeup and saturation of political news.

Aug. 23

washington post logoWashington Post, White House grapples with Cohen, Manafort convictions, Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey, Aug. 23, 2018 (print edition). Inside President Trump’s orbit, there is a debate: Some confidants see this week — in which two of his former aides were convicted in federal courts — as an unsettling inflection point. Others just see yet another round of problems that are not a danger to Trump.

paula duncan

Manafort juror Paula Duncan speakers out (screen shot from Fox News interview)

washington post logoWashington Post, Lone holdout on Manafort jury blocked conviction on all counts, juror says, Matt Zapotosky​, Aug. 23, 2018. A juror in the trial of President Trump’s former campaign chairman said she and most of her peers wanted to convict him on every charge.

Fox News via MSN, Manafort juror reveals lone holdout prevented Mueller team from convicting on all counts, Shannon Bream interview, Aug. 22, 2018 (11:47 min. video). Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team was one holdout juror away from convicting Paul Manafort on all 18 counts of bank and tax fraud, juror Paula Duncan told Fox News in an exclusive interview Wednesday.

“It was one person who kept the verdict from being guilty on all 18 counts,” Duncan, 52, said. She added that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors often seemed bored, apparently catnapping during parts of the trial.

The identities of the jurors have been closely held, kept under seal by Judge T.S. Ellis III at Tuesday's conclusion of the high-profile trial. But Duncan gave a behind-the-scenes account to Fox News on Wednesday, after the jury returned a guilty verdict against the former Trump campaign chairman on eight financial crime counts and deadlocked on 10 others. Duncan described herself as an avid supporter of President Trump, but said she was moved by four full boxes of exhibits provided by Mueller’s team – though she was skeptical about prosecutors' motives in the financial crimes case.

“Certainly Mr. Manafort got caught breaking the law, but he wouldn’t have gotten caught if they weren’t after President Trump,” Duncan said of the special counsel’s case, which she separately described as a “witch hunt to try to find Russian collusion,” borrowing a phrase Trump has used in tweets more than 100 times.

“Something that went through my mind is, this should have been a tax audit,” Duncan said, sympathizing with the foundation of the Manafort defense team’s argument.

She described a tense and emotional four days of deliberations, which ultimately left one juror holding out. Behind closed doors, tempers flared at times, even though jurors never explicitly discussed Manafort’s close ties to Trump.

“It was a very emotionally charged jury room – there were some tears,” Duncan said about deliberations with a group of Virginians she didn’t feel included many “fellow Republicans.”

A political allegiance to the president also raised conflicted feelings in Duncan, but she said it ultimately didn’t change her decision about the former Trump campaign chairman.

“Finding Mr. Manafort guilty was hard for me, I wanted him to be innocent, I really wanted him to be innocent, but he wasn’t,” Duncan said. “That’s the part of a juror, you have to have due diligence and deliberate and look at the evidence and come up with an informed and intelligent decision, which I did.”

Duncan, a Missouri native and mother of two, showed Fox News her two notebooks with her juror number #0302 on the covers.

In the interview, Duncan also described how the special counsel’s prosecutors apparently had a hard time keeping their eyes open.“A lot of times they looked bored, and other times they catnapped – at least two of them did,” Duncan said. “They seemed very relaxed, feet up on the table bars and they showed a little bit of almost disinterest to me, at times.”

The jury box was situated in a corner of the courtroom that gave them an unobstructed head-on view of the prosecutors and defense, while members of the media and the public viewed both parties from behind.

Judge Ellis told jurors, including Duncan, that their names would remain sealed after the trial’s conclusion, because of dangerous threats he received during the proceedings.

But the verdict gave Duncan a license to share her story without fear.“Had the verdict gone any other way, I might have been,” Duncan said.

Her account of the deliberations is no longer a secret. And neither is the pro-Trump apparel she kept for a long drive to the federal courthouse in Alexandria every day.

“Every day when I drove, I had my Make America Great Again hat in the backseat,” said Duncan, who said she plans to vote for Trump again in 2020. “Just as a reminder.”

Aug. 21

New York Times, Cohen Pleads Guilty; Manafort Convicted

michael cohen iowa via flickr preston kemp

ny times logoNew York Times, Cohen: Tump Asked for Hush Payments to Women, Cohen Says, William K. Rashbaum, Maggie Haberman, Ben Protess and Jim Rutenberg, Aug. 21, 2018. Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer (shown in a file photo in front of Trump Tower), made the extraordinary admission in court on Tuesday that he had arranged payments to two women at Mr. Trump’s behest to secure their silence about affairs they said they had with him.

Mr. Cohen acknowledged the illegal payments while pleading guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and other charges. He told a judge in United States District Court in Manhattan that the payments to the women were “at the direction of the candidate,” and “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” for president in 2016.

Mr. Cohen also pleaded guilty to multiple counts of tax evasion and bank fraud, bringing to a close a monthslong investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors who examined his personal business dealings and his role in helping to arrange financial deals with women connected to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cohen made the extraordinary admission that he paid a pornographic film actress “at the direction of the candidate,” referring to Mr. Trump, to secure her silence about an affair she said she had with Mr. Trump.

[Read more about Mr. Cohen’s appearance in court and his admission that he paid Stormy Daniels “at the direction” of President Trump.]

ny times logoNew York Times, Manafort Found Guilty of 8 Fraud Charges, Sharon LaFraniere, Aug. 21, 2018. The ex-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort was convicted of eight counts, but the jury couldn’t reach a verdict on the other 10.

Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, was convicted on Tuesday in his financial fraud trial, bringing a dramatic end to a politically charged case that riveted the capital.

The verdict was read out in United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., only minutes after Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer, pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to violating campaign finance law and other charges.

Mr. Manafort’s trial did not touch directly on Mr. Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election or on whether Mr. Trump has sought to obstruct the investigation. But it was the first test of the special counsel’s ability to prosecute a case in a federal courtroom amid intense criticism from the president and his allies that the inquiry is a biased and unjustified witch hunt.

paul manafort mugThe verdict was a victory for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, whose prosecutors built a case that Mr. Manafort hid millions of dollars in foreign accounts to evade taxes and lied to banks repeatedly to obtain $20 million in loans.

Mr. Manafort, shown at left in a jail mugshot, was convicted of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining 10 counts, and the judge declared a mistrial on those charges.

Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Mr. Manafort, said his client was “evaluating all of his options at this point.”

Aug. 17

Roll Call, Manafort Judge Says He’s Getting Death Threats, Griffin Connolly, Aug. 17, 2018. Judge T.S. Ellis III says he won’t reveal jurors info to prevent them from getting similar threats.

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘No Comment’: The Special Counsel’s (Very) Careful Team, Noah Weiland, Aug. 17, 2018 (print edition). The trial of Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, has provided the public with its first extended glimpse of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators.

The prosecutors’ habits are to be expected in such a big case, former members of independent counsel teams said. The difference this time is the magnitude of the investigation paired with an era of instant news.

“This is unusual,” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, a deputy independent counsel who was selected by Judge Kenneth W. Starr to handle the grand jury questioning of President Bill Clinton. “This is a major, major trial with intense press interest in an era when you have 24-hour cable news.”

Perhaps no member of Mr. Mueller’s team has drawn more curiosity than the special counsel himself, who has not spoken publicly about the inquiry. The void has filled with speculation about the smallest observations — even about his choice of watch, the hyper-accurate Casio DW-290, which he wears with the face on the inside of his wrist.

Aug. 16

Roll Call, Manafort Jury at Impasse Over Foreign Accounts, ‘Reasonable Doubt’, Griffin Connolly, Aug 16, 2018. Jurors had four questions for judge Thursday. After roughly seven hours of deliberation Thursday, the six men and six women on the jury deciding the fate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort appeared at an impasse and will require at least another day to hand down their verdict.

At approximately 5:06 p.m., Judge T.S. Ellis III read a handwritten note from the jury with four questions. One of the questions referred to the requirements for people filing reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, or FBARs. Another asked the judge to redefine “reasonable doubt.”

The questions Thursday afternoon provide insight into the debates jurors are sorting out as they try to come to a consensus agreement on whether Manafort is guilty or innocent on none, some, or all, of the 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud.

In their first question for Ellis, the jury asked if someone is required to file an FBAR if they own “less than 50 percent of the account, do not have signature authority over the account,” but do have the authority to “direct disbursement of funds” from the account. Prosecutors have charged Manafort with willfully failing to submit FBARs to the Treasury Department in order to conceal the existence of 31 foreign accounts in which he allegedly hid more than $30 million from the IRS.

To be required to file an FBAR, a person must own more than 50 percent of the entity with foreign accounts. For the years 2012 through 2014, Manafort owned a flat 50 percent of his political consulting firms that controlled the foreign bank accounts, the defense has argued — just under the threshold that would trigger an FBAR requirement.

But Manafort’s wife, Kathleen, owned the other 50 percent, and the couple have filed joint tax returns for decades, U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye has argued. The rules for filing an FBAR state that a person can have ownership both “directly” and “indirectly.”

The jury must decide if Kathleen Manafort’s 50 percent stake in Davis Manafort Partners and DMP International counts as her husband’s “indirect” ownership.

Palmer Report, Opinion: The real reason the Paul Manafort jury is inquiring about “reasonable doubt,” Bill Palmer, Aug. 16, 2018.  he jury in the Paul Manafort trial has just begun its deliberations, and now several major news outlets are reporting that jurors are already asking the judge in the case to provide them with the legal definition of “reasonable doubt.”

Taken out of context, this reporting has spooked a number of people into worrying that perhaps the jury is preparing to let Manafort off the hook. But within the context of the legal proceedings, this all means something very different.

ny times logoNew York Times, Questions the Jurors in the Manafort Trial Will Be Asking, Sharon LaFraniere and Emily Baumgaertner, Aug. 16, 2018. Jury deliberations began in the trial of Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, who is charged with 18 counts of bank and tax fraud. The prosecution called more than 20 witnesses and presented a wealth of documents, including Mr. Manafort’s financial records and emails. The defense rested without calling any witnesses, which is not uncommon.

Many factors could affect how the jury weighs the evidence. Here are some:

Rick Gates’s credibility. Mr. Manafort’s close aide for nearly two decades, Mr. Gates helped Mr. Manafort with both his business and personal finances. At Mr. Manafort’s request, he testified, he doctored profit and loss statements, lied to accountants about Mr. Manafort’s foreign bank accounts and helped him deceive bank officers so they would approve millions of dollars in loans for which Mr. Manafort did not qualify.

But Mr. Gates was also a flawed witness. He has pleaded guilty to two felony charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the hope of winning a lighter sentence. He also acknowledged committing a host of other crimes, including embezzling from Mr. Manafort’s accounts.

On the stand, he vacillated between taking responsibility for his misdeeds and trying to minimize them. Asked why he lied on one financial document, for instance, he said he was merely doing his friend “a favor.” Kevin Downing, one of Mr. Manafort’s lawyers, accused him of leading a “secret life” that included at least one mistress, and possibly four.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion:The extraordinary bias of the judge in the Manafort trial, Nancy Gertner, Aug. 16, 2018.  Nancy Gertner, a retired U.S. District Court judge in Massachusetts, is a lecturer at Harvard Law School.

It is not unusual for judges to intervene in court proceedings from time to time — to direct the lawyers to move the case along or to admonish them that evidence is repetitive.

The performance of U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III in the trial of Paul Manafort on bank fraud and tax evasion charges has been decidedly unusual. During the trial, Ellis intervened regularly, and mainly against one side: the prosecution. The judge's interruptions occurred in the presence of the jury and on matters of substance, not courtroom conduct. He disparaged the prosecution's evidence, misstated its legal theories, even implied that prosecutors had disobeyed his orders when they had not.

Aug. 9

ny times logoNew York Times, We wrote about T. S. Ellis III, the judge in Mr. Manafort’s trial, in August, Emily Cochrane and Sharon LaFraniere
Aug. 9, 2018. Judge T. S. Ellis III had dismissed the jury for the day, but he was not quite finished opining about what he saw as irrelevant and repetitive questioning of a witness in the financial fraud trial of Paul Manafort.

Standing up so as to loom even larger over the courtroom, he angrily confronted Greg D. Andres, the lead prosecutor.

“Look at me,” the judge demanded, slamming his hand on the wooden ledge. “When you look down, it’s as if to say, you know, that’s B.S., I don’t want to listen to any more from you.”

“Don’t look down. Don’t roll your eyes,” he told Mr. Andres.

And so for the second time that afternoon, the prosecutor had to try to convince the judge that he only looked down because otherwise, he said, he would “be yelled at again by the Court” for his facial expression when “I’m not doing anything wrong, but trying my case.”

Judge Ellis, 78, is the formidable ringmaster of the greatest show in the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., demanding both precise questioning and a breakneck pace in the trial of Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman.