“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.
In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort came to adopt the lifestyle and corrupt practices of his Ukrainian clients as his own.
In an otherwise blameless life, he produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.
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In an otherwise blameless life, he stood mute as Yanukovych’s police killed 130 protesters in the Maidan.
In an otherwise blameless life, he found himself nearly $20 million in debt to a Russian oligarch. Instead of honestly accounting for the money, he simply stopped responding to the oligarch’s messages.
In an otherwise blameless life, he tried to use his perch atop the Trump campaign to help salvage his sorry financial situation. He installed one of his protégés as the head of the pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America. His friend allegedly funneled $125,000 from the super PAC to pay off one of Manafort’s nagging debts.
In an otherwise blameless life, Manafort was found guilty of tax evasion on an industrial scale. Rather than paying his fair share to help fund national defense and public health, he kept his cash in Cyprus and wired it home to buy more than $1 million in bespoke clothing.
In an otherwise blameless life, he disguised his income as loans so that he could bamboozle banks into lending him money.
In an otherwise blameless life, he attempted to phone a potential witness in his trial so that they could align their stories.
In an otherwise blameless life, he systematically lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors, after he promised them his full cooperation.
In an otherwise blameless life, he acted with impunity, as if the laws never applied to him. When presented with a chance to show remorse to the court, he couldn’t find that sentiment within his being. And with Ellis’s featherweight punishment, which deviated sharply downward from the sentencing guidelines, Manafort managed to bring his life’s project to a strange completion. He had devoted his career to normalizing corruption in Washington. By the time he was caught, his extraordinary avarice had become so commonplace that not even a federal judge could blame him for it.