Paul Manafort got off easy—and he may still die in prison. Thursday’s penalty, though lighter than expected, is still likely a death sentence, especially with a second sentence to come.
For all of America’s colorful history, you can’t say many presidential campaign managers or shady pillars of Washington’s perpetual lobbying swamp ended up with a 47-month sentence, below the 19 years or more than sentencing guidelines recommended as the judge (who apparently has never heard of “The Google”) took into consideration Manafort’s heretofore “blameless” life.
Manafort’s life—which had been anything but blameless—is nonetheless over. He faces more sentencing in his D.C. trial next week, with a recommendation there of as much as 10 more years. He may never see more than a patch of daylight in the prison yard until he is carried out feet-first and buried in a potter’s field.
If anyone ever tempted the fates in our political ecosystem, it was Manafort. He lived a life of opulence bordering on the decadent, fueled by a career made by serving the worst authoritarians, dictators, warlords, and shit-tier human-rights abusers he could scrape out of the gutter to monetize. His bygone days as a mainstream Republican consultant were far in the rearview mirror when Donald Trump tapped his old friend Paul Manafort to run his 2016 campaign.
I wonder what Manafort thought when Trump called on him. At that point, Pasha Manafort was in hock up to his eyeballs to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and had lost his primary client, the lavishly kleptocratic Putin-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. He owed the Russians millions of dollars, and Oleg and his friends tend to collect with either kinetic action or sudden doses of poison. It was no wonder that Manafort turned over the Trump campaign’s platform over to the Russians, and fed polling data to former (and by former, I mean, forever) GRU officer Konstantin Kilimnik. Manafort was desperate to please his Russian masters.
Trump and Manafort were a perfect match. Manafort saw Trump as a vector to escape his debts, and possibly save his own life. He pledged himself to Donald Trump, a man so patently unsuited to be president that even a consultant in the dire straits Manafort landed himself in might have paused. Even Manafort’s spectacular greed doesn’t fully explain it. Trump must have seen himself in the mirror of Manafort: venal, vain, and in bed with the Russians. Manafort wanted Trump’s money to save him from the Russians. Trump wanted Manafort’s Russians to fund his Moscow real-estate project.
Paul Manafort may have thought himself to be as slippery as a greased eel, both with Trump and the Russians, but in the end, his bluff was called by one Robert Mueller, who is the opposite of Manafort in every axis.
Manafort’s efforts to manipulate witnesses, obstruct justice, and commit ongoing acts of perjury caught up with him. In politics, we often shortcut the truth to get to rhetorical goals. We can play fast and loose with the meaning of words, the context of quotes, and the significance of actions. We adore the clever trick, the edgy strategy, the just-at-the-line play. Manafort confused his latitude in doing politics in third-world craptocracies with the boundaries of American justice.
No one entrapped Manafort. No one made Paul Manafort attempt to suborn perjury and manipulate witnesses. Robert Mueller didn’t lead some innocent lamb to the slaughter; the special counsel gave Manafort every chance to save himself. Instead, Manafort ordered more than enough rope to string himself up.
Manafort, of course, follows the inevitable Everything Trump Touches Dies arc. In the beginning, Trump and his supporters showered Manafort with the most lavish praise as a political genius, a man of great depth, understanding, and stature. He was a legend come to aid the Trump effort, a sign of the campaign’s maturation and growing strength. Now, he’s deep into the familiar process of Trumpian unpersoning. “We hardly knew him. He only served a short time. He was a coffee boy. He was ideologically impure. He was a criminal scumbag who tricked us. He betrayed the Great Leader.” Every major player in Trump’s world experiences this treatment.
All Manafort had to do for once in his shady, shitty life was tell the truth. He merely had to cooperate with Mueller. His criminal conduct, lack of genuine repentance, and evident corruption led to today’s sentence.
The pattern of people caught in Trump’s moral orbit is clear; they lie, and lie again, and keep lying until they’re busted. Then they lie some more, seemingly to piss off the prosecutors. Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, Jerome Corsi, and others kept trying to emulate their master, but they keep getting slapped. It’s a culture of cheaters, scammers, and bottom-feeding ratfuckers going up against legal forces who specialize in calling their bullshit.
In some ways, it’s not surprising they keep lying. They see Trump do so with such high frequency and volume that entire new fields of statistical and linguistic analysis are required to describe it. In the Trump media bubble, they see him get away with it every day.
They keep forgetting that the special counsel, U.S. attorneys, and the federal courts have a higher standard of truth than Fox & Friends, Breitbart, or debased and degraded formerly conservative media outlets. Robert Mueller doesn’t give a damn how many retweets Trump’s lies get, or how many comments or donations Roger Stone’s latest grifting Instagram posts receive.
They care about justice, the rule of law, the facts, and the truth. The truth may not always have an advantage in politics, but it most certainly does in the courts and the hands of this special counsel.
Paul Manafort is also a valuable preview of the future for people like Roger Stone. Stone has tried to play the same too-cute game with the special counsel and Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Now, the septuagenarian libertine faces his own time in the barrel. Stone won’t prosper in a place where the most dapper element of his outfit is a scratchy orange polyester jumpsuit.
For those of you facing indictment, including those are you in the Trump orbit who know what’s coming but haven’t yet heard the knock of the U.S. Marshals on your door, here’s a helpful reminder: Trump will always lie. He will always throw you under the bus. He will always shift the blame. He will always promise you everything and leave you hanging.
Think of a single time you’ve ever seen Trump stand up for someone in trouble for their work for him. You can’t. Do you think Trump believes in any joint defense agreement or will raise money for your legal defense? Do you think Trump is going to offer you a pardon to save you from death behind bars? Get a grip.
You worked for a conman, a fraud, a serial adulterer, a man comfortable in the presence of criminals, and someone who displays every single worst aspect of humanity. Trump will do everything it takes to preserve his power, image, and money. He will burn the entire Republican Party—and likely the nation—to the ground to save himself. Enjoy the free government health care in prison.
Already Manafort is a shadow of his former self, his once-lustrous black hair grayer and thinning, his ostrich jackets and bespoke suits already becoming a distant memory.
Karma is a magnificent bitch. Manafort’s service to the worst in this world brought him the highest position in the Trump campaign. His lies, crimes, and attempt to subvert justice brought him this term in prison. In protecting Trump and playing for a pardon that will never come, Manafort sentenced himself.