Jackson said Manafort’s claims of “solitary confinement” were misleading, since he was, in fact, given a private room in jail. She contended that his legal team continuously misled the court, including in a memo issued ahead of the sentencing hearing, and said that while Manafort’s plea on Wednesday was heartfelt, he had otherwise repeatedly minimized his actions. She rejected Manafort’s defense that failing to make required disclosures under the Foreign Agent Registration Act was a mere regulatory crime, arguing that it constituted lying to the American people. And while Manafort’s lawyers claimed that their client wouldn’t have been targeted for prosecution had he not taken over the Trump campaign, the judge noted that the Department of Justice had already been looking into Manafort.
“Saying ‘I’m sorry I got caught’ is not an inspiring plea for leniency,” Jackson said.
Perhaps the most intriguing passage in Jackson’s remarks concerned the question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election—the most closely watched element of Mueller’s case. (As I have written, there are multiple cases of Trump aides working with Russians; the only real questions left are the full scope of the operation and Trump’s awareness or involvement.) Just as Ellis noted last week that none of that case touched on collusion, Jackson said no collusion case was before her court. But she warned against drawing too many conclusions from that fact.
“The ‘No collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is similarly unrelated to the matter at hand,” Jackson said. “It’s not particularly persuasive to argue that an investigation hasn’t found anything when you lied to the investigators.”
Manafort’s federal cases end without shedding much light on one of the most intriguing but little understood elements of Mueller’s probe. Prosecutors say that Manafort shared polling with Konstantin Kilimnik, whom Mueller has also indicted. During a hearing in February, prosecutors said that an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes “very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating.” It’s still not clear what that meant. In any case, Jackson scolded Manafort’s lawyers for harping on collusion in their memo.
Read: Robert Mueller is not invincible
“It’s hard to understand why an attorney would write that,” she said.
But it’s not that hard to understand that Manafort’s lawyers are playing to a dual audience. They hoped to minimize Jackson’s sentence, yet they are also appealing to President Trump, who has the power to pardon Manafort. Trump has repeatedly lamented what he claims is unfair treatment of Manafort, and he has conspicuously declined to rule out a pardon, most recently after the sentencing Wednesday afternoon. Trump falsely claimed last week that Ellis said “there was NO COLLUSION with Russia.” By striking a note that resonates with the president—and with Manafort hyping his victimhood—the defense lawyers might hope that they can arouse Trump’s sympathy and, with it, get their client off the hook. (The charges in New York, because they were brought under state law, are not eligible for a presidential pardon.)
But Jackson might have demonstrated that she, too, knows that Trump is paying attention. One of her remarks to Manafort was equally a rebuke to the prolifically dishonest president.
“If the people don’t have the facts, democracy doesn’t work,” Jackson said.