Paul Manafort once served as Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign chair, and before that, he served as the top political consultant to pro-Russian Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovich, as The Washington Post has chronicled. He faced bank and tax fraud charges brought by Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller that could have added up to a 305-year prison sentence.
While it was unlikely that Manafort would have received the full 305 years, as reported by USA Today, Mueller’s prosecutors asked U.S. District Court Judge T.S Ellis to hit the 69-year-old Manafort with a term behind bars of between 19 and 24 years.
But on Thursday, Ellis called the Mueller team’s sentencing calculation “excessive,” and praised Manafort at the sentencing hearing for living “an otherwise blameless life,” outside of the eight fraud crimes for which he was convicted, as The Washington Post reported. Ellis then sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison — one month short of four years — a term that produced a reaction of disbelief and outrage from social media users who had followed the case.
“I have stuff in my fridge that’s been there 47 months,” wrote Democratic activist Claude Taylor, on his Twitter account.
One Twitter commentator, journalist Judd Legum noted that while Manafort received less than four years for his multiple fraud convictions, Crystal Mason, a 43-year-old Texas mother-of-three, was hit with a five-year sentence in September for mistakenly “trying to vote in the 2016 election,” not realizing that she was ineligible to vote due to an earlier felony conviction.
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) March 8, 2019
Other Twitter pundits had similarly stunned reactions to the seemingly lenient Manafort sentence, including Harvard University Constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe, MSNBC host Chris Hayes, and Atlantic writer Franklin Foer.
Manafort’s 47-month sentence in ED Va is outrageously lenient. Judge Ellis has inexcusably perverted justice and the guidelines. His pretrial comments were a dead giveaway. The DC sentence next week had better be consecutive.
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) March 8, 2019
American justice is a helluva thing.
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) March 8, 2019
This is outrageous. Manafort spent a career lobbying for arms for clients who burned children alive; he represented gangsters who broke democracies and whose thievery destroyed health systems. He literally created corruption as we know it in Washington. https://t.co/twvaSHyNWo
— Franklin Foer (@FranklinFoer) March 8, 2019
Author and frequent political commentator Jared Yates Sexton also registered his opinion.
Man. Treason doesn’t carry the same weight anymore.
— Jared Yates Sexton (@JYSexton) March 8, 2019
Another Atlantic writer, Adam Serwer, compared Manafort’s sentence to the heartbreaking case of Kalief Browder, a New York City teen who was sent to jail for three years without ever facing trial, much less being convicted, for a minor offense. As NBC News reported, the experience shattered Browder, who committed suicide after he was finally released.
They jailed Kalief Browder for three years over charges related to a stolen backpack.
— Adam Serwer???? (@AdamSerwer) March 8, 2019
When was the last time Judge TS Ellis sentenced a poor young Black man to only 20% of the recommended sentencing guideline?
I'm going to go with: never.#Manafort
— Pé Resists (@4everNeverTrump) March 8, 2019
The rich are different. https://t.co/G3tGqgw5zS
— Christopher Farnsworth (@chrisfarnsworth) March 8, 2019
Good luck making me laugh harder than this: https://t.co/kMXP5jZO2T
— Desi (@DesiJed) March 8, 2019
The rules are very different for the rich.
RT @SethAbramson: BREAKING (CNN): Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort Gets 47 Months
— MVP (@The305MVP) March 7, 2019
Reacting to the Manafort sentencing in an MSNBC interview, former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner said he was “embarrassed,” as reported via Twitter by MSNBC producer Kyle Griffin.
“As an American, I’m upset,” Kirschner said. “I am just as disappointed with Judge Ellis… It’s an outrage and it’s disrespectful of the American people.”
The 47-month sentence imposed by Ellis was actually shorter than the sentence requested by Manafort’s own defense attorneys, as Reuters reported. Manafort’s team had asked Ellis for a sentence of between 51 and 63 months.
In a separate case in September, Manafort pleaded guilty to two more counts, as NBC News reported. A different federal judge, Amy Berman Jackson, is set to sentence Manafort for those convictions on March 13.