News & Politics

Here Are 5 Reasons Why Paul Manafort Will Receive Every Benefit of the Doubt

The wealthy Manafort has a major advantage in this trial.

Photo Credit: ABC

The trial of Paul Manafort entered Day Eight this morning in Judge T.S. Ellis III’s federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, where President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager continues to battle multiple charges of bank fraud and tax evasion. But the wealthy Manafort has a major advantage in this trial: class privilege—unlike countless poor or lower middle-class Americans who are crushed by the U.S.’ judicial system and the Prison/Industrial Complex. 

The U.S. has, per capita, the most prisoners in the world—more than Saudi Arabia, more than Iran, more than China, more than Russia. The U.S has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prison population; in other words, one in four of the world’s prisoners are incarcerated in the U.S. And as a rule, it isn’t men of privilege like Manafort who are being locked up.

Here are five reasons why Manafort will receive every benefit of the doubt in his trial.

1. Judge Ellis Is Skeptical About the Charges Manafort Is Facing 

Throughout Manafort’s trial, Judge Ellis has been quick to express his skepticism about the federal government’s case against Manafort—often discouraging testimony about his relationship with Ukrainian oligarchs. Ellis, in fact, has asked attorneys to refrain from using the word “oligarch,” which he considers prejudicial. Ellis has made it clear, throughout the trial, that he believes prosecutors are the ones who have the heavy lifting to do in this case—and certainly, in theory, prosecutors should always be the ones with the burden of proof in a democracy. But the reality is that in the U.S., prosecutors often have the upper hand when defendants are poor; in Manafort’s trial, prosecutors—not the defendant—are the ones facing an uphill climb.

Even Judge Andrew Napolitano—a right-wing libertarian and judicial analyst for Fox News—has criticized Ellis for “showing an extraordinary bias against the government” and asserted, “I’m not happy with this judge….If you feel that negatively about the government, you shouldn’t be on the case.”

2. Manafort Has the Best Legal Defense Money Can Buy

Thanks to the Prison/Industrial Complex and overzealous prosecutors, many public defenders are overwhelmed in a way that Manafort’s attorneys are not. Manafort not only has a sympathetic judge—he has skillful attorneys like Kevin Downing as part of his defense team. And Downing, this week, has been attacking the testimony and credibility of the prosecution’s star witness: Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates, painting him as a sleazy opportunist who is not be trusted. In so many cases, America’s poor can only dream of having the type of defense team that is defending Manafort.

3. Manafort Might Have a Sympathetic Jury

Voir dire, the process of jury selection, requires incredible skill on the part of attorneys—and even then, they cannot be entirely sure what biases a juror might have or not have. Manafort has an advantage in that he has both a skeptical judge and an aggressive defense team, both of whom can play a role in convincing the jury that Manafort is being treated unfairly. That isn’t to say, with certainty, that he won’t be convicted, but it’s certainly advantageous when a defendant has both a judge and a defense team planting doubts in the minds of jurors.

4. Even If He’s Convicted, Manafort Could Receive Lenient Sentence

Ellis has noted that Manafort, if convicted of multiple bank fraud and charges, could spend the rest of his life in prison. But guidelines for these white-collar charges call for sentences well below the maximum allowable, and even if Manafort is convicted, the sentencing judge could exercise discretion and be as lenient as the law allows.

To his credit, Ellis has become critical of mandatory minimum sentences in another area of federal law: drug cases. In late June, when Ellis sentenced convicted meth dealer Frederick Turner to 40 years in prison, he asserted that he would have much preferred to be more lenient but was bound by mandatory minimum laws. All Ellis could do, he lamented, was “express my displeasure” and impose a sentence on Turner he didn’t want to impose. 

Turner is feeling the full weight of the Prison/Industrial Complex, even though Ellis isn’t happy about it; with Manafort, there’s more room for leniency.

5. Manafort Could Receive a Presidential Pardon 

Even if Manafort is convicted and sentenced to prison, he has yet another possible escape route: President Trump, who has made it clear that he considers Manafort’s incarceration during the trial “very unfair.” On June 15, Trump tweeted, “Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns. Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the mob. What about (James) Comey and Crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair!”

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani recently implied that Manafort could receive a presidential pardon, telling the New York Daily News, “When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.” And if Manafort is convicted and sentenced to prison, he might be joining former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and other prominent right-wingers who have received presidential pardons from Trump.

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.