The Big Picture

There was outrage and shock over the light sentence given to Paul Manafort by Judge TS Ellis last week. I was unhappy with the 47 month sentence but not shocked because I followed the trial closely. Judge Ellis was biased against the prosecution and in favor of Manafort throughout the trial. Several times during the trial, Ellis expressed the opinion that Manafort was a stand-in for Trump so the expressions of shock were either themselves shocking or naive. The light sentence was predictable. Not desirable but predictable.

Judge Ellis is the personification of a federal judge who has served too long. He’s been on senior status since 2007 and has served a total of 32 years. Federal judges tend to have a high opinion of themselves and their legal acumen. Ellis may be an extreme example but the system is pockmarked with high-handed judges who act like demigods in their courtrooms.

I’m inclined to agree with former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti:

The 47-month sentence imposed on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has drawn widespread criticism that Judge T.S. Ellis’s decision to give Manafort a sentence far below the 19.5 to 24.5-year guidelines range was motivated by Manafort’s race and class or by partisan bias. In fact, his flawed decision is a consequence of the vast discretion given to federal judges to issue sentences without real fear of being overturned.

What you might not know is that federal law permitted Judge Ellis to give Manafort a sentence of anywhere between 0 to 80 years in prison. And as long as Ellis did not go above the 24.5-year maximum called for by the sentencing guidelines, an appellate court would almost certainly not reverse his sentence, given the very deferential standard of review.

Some compared Manfort’s 47 month sentence to the 13 year book thrown at my former Congressman Dollar Bill Jefferson by Judge Ellis. One flaw in that reasoning is that was not a tax case but a bribery case. Besides, Dollar Bill’s sentence was reduced to 5 years after a plea bargain in 2017. As I said on the tweeter tube:

Dollar Bill is a corrupt piece of shit who deserved all the jail time he got as I pointed out in a piece I wrote for the Bayou Brief.

The reason I’m more sanguine than many about the Manafort sentence is that I’m a big picture guy. Ellis’ sentence is just the first bite out of the sentencing apple. The DC judge, Amy Berman Jackson, has already taken a hard-line with Manafort by revoking his bail for violating his plea deal with Team Mueller. I expect she’ll throw a heftier book at Manafort with that sentence running consecutively with Ellis’ 47 months, which could be a total of 14+years.

In addition to being a big picture guy, I’m not a fan of hot takes. It’s easier to spout off on social media than it is to think things through before responding to the events of the day. It’s why I’m not a fan of epic “tweet threads.” I’d rather read a coherent discussion of an issue than 25 often disjointed tweets on the same subject. That’s why I’m a blogger, not a tweeter.

In other big picture news, people are obsessing about the 2020 campaign and why certain candidates should or should not run. I think it’s up to the voters to sort things out. Lack of interest is why Mike Bloomberg and Sherrod Brown dropped out, which is a good thing in both cases. Bloomberg will spend his megabucks on issues and Brown will hold on to  a senate seat that would surely tumble to the GOP. The Ohio senator may still end up on the ticket if the nominee is looking for balance: a Harris-Brown ticket could be formidable.

Here’s the deal. I think that Trump and the Republicans will be so consumed with scandal that the Democratic nominee will be a heavy favorite to win the election. For that reason, I think that the ability to govern is just as important as electability, which is why I’m reluctant to support anyone at this point in time. The next Democratic president is going to have an even bigger mess to clean up than the one inherited by Barack Obama, which is why competence and experience are just as important as ideology in 2020.

I’ve seen confident predictions that the Democratic nominee will not be a white man. It’s too soon to tell: who thought an obscure one-term Georgia Governor would be the 1976 nominee? I’d like to make history again BUT we’re the big tent party and need to assemble a coalition that appeals to moderates and independents as well as to the left. Once again, the voters will winnow down the candidates. Whatever happens, the Democratic nominee will be far superior to Trump or anyone else the GOP puts forward.

Former Veep Joe Biden seems to be edging closer to a decision as to whether or not to run. If Biden were 10 years younger, he’d be a prohibitive favorite for the nomination. In his case, experience and likability could trump (pun intended, it always is) ideology. Joey the shark will have to explain some of his past positions but is viewed with personal affection by most Democrats. He’ll also have to rein in his tendency to praise *everyone* including Republicans if he runs. It’s what happens when you’re an epic schmoozer.

I may be a self-proclaimed big picture guy but I’m out of the prediction business. I hope that Trump will be out of office before January 2021 BUT things have been so crazy for the last three years that I hesitate to dust off my crystal ball. All I’m certain of is that it’s going to be interesting on both the legal and political fronts for the foreseeable future.

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