Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort leaves Federal District Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, and Manafort's business associate Rick Gates have pleaded not guilty to felony charges of conspiracy against the United States and other counts. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ORG XMIT: DCAB109

Maybe all federal judges should start out as criminal defense attorneys. At least they understand how guilty defendants operate.

Okay, I’m drawing on a tiny sample here, but U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson sure showed on Wednesday that she has Paul Manafort’s number. Jackson, an appointee of former President Barack Obama whose past clients include convicted former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson of New Orleans, issued a withering assessment of President Donald Trump’s onetime campaign chairman as she sentenced him in her Washington, DC courtroom for foreign lobbying violations.

Among other things, she noted that Manafort “spent a significant portion of his career gaming the system” and subverted the law in order to support an “ostentatiously opulent” lifestyle with “more houses than a family can enjoy, more suits than one man can wear.”

“It is hard to overstate the number of lies and the amount of fraud and the amount of money involved,” she said at one point. “There is no question that this defendant knew better, and he knew what he was doing.”

Contrast Jackson’s take with that of another federal judge who presided over another Manafort case, T.S. Ellis III of Virginia. Ellis, who was a business litigator before President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the federal bench, also oversaw Jefferson’s trial a decade ago. Ellis sentenced Jefferson to 13 years in prison for a scheme to profit from his official position, and threw in a harsh scolding on the topic of public trust.

Stephanie Grace: In Manafort case, players from William Jefferson trial take on very different roles

Compared to that, Ellis treated Manafort with disturbing deference. While the sentencing guidelines for his trial conviction on tax and bank fraud charges ranged from 19 to 24 years, Ellis last week gave him just under four (Jackson’s concurrent sentence means he’ll face a total of 7 ½, not including any potential sentence on separate state charges in New York unveiled Wednesday). And despite ample evidence to back up Jackson’s severe assessment, Ellis issued the memorable take that Manafort had led and “otherwise blameless life.” That’s one phrase from this sorry episode that quickly took on a life of its own.

Here’s another line that should, this one from Jackson: "If the people don’t have the facts, democracy can’t work."

Amen to that. 


Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.