Source: Caitlin Yilek
A federal judge known for his impatience in court sentenced former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on Thursday to less than four years behind bars, defying a requested prison term of 19 to 24 years by special counsel Robert Mueller.
T.S. Ellis III, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and serves on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, called Mueller’s recommended sentence “excessive.” Instead, the former U.S. Navy aviator, who piloted an F-4 Phantom before heading to Harvard Law School and then Oxford University, handed down a 47-month sentence.
“To impose a sentence of 19-24 years on Mr. Manafort would clearly be a disparity. In the end, I don’t think the guidelines range is at all appropriate,” Ellis said.
“I think what I’ve done is sufficiently punitive, and anyone who disagrees should spend a day in a federal penitentiary,” he said, adding that he wants Manafort to receive credit for the nine months he’s already served behind bars.
The 78-year-old judge, who presided over the trial in which Manafort was convicted of eight financial crimes, including bank fraud, tax fraud, and failure to disclose a foreign bank account, seemed swayed by his attorneys’ argument for a sentence “substantially below” the federal guidelines.
The sentence was in contrast with a sentencing memo from Mueller’s team.
“Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing last month.
“Manafort chose to do this for no other reason than greed, evidencing his belief that the law does not apply to him,” they wrote.
But Manafort’s attorneys had hit back at the special counsel in their own sentencing memo, claiming prosecutors were trying to “vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon” and “spreading misinformation about Mr. Manafort to impugn his character in a manner that this country has not experienced in decades.”
Ellis was often curt during the case. At a pre-trial hearing, he questioned why the special counsel’s office had charged Manafort with crimes unrelated to their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Ellis argued that prosecutors ultimately wanted to pressure Manafort to give them information “that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever.”
He also intervened throughout the trial, disparaging the special counsel’s evidence and telling prosecutor Greg Andres to not roll his eyes.
When prosecutors focused on Manafort’s lavish lifestyle, such as his expensive taste in clothing, Ellis interrupted: “The government doesn’t want to prosecute somebody because they wear nice clothes, do they? Let’s move on.”
The judge, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, is known for his harsh rebukes from the bench and recounting of his youth.
In a case before him last year, Ellis told a defendant who had violated his parole, “You have to make up your mind whether you are an honest, law-abiding person or not.”
He then described his own experience with adversity, telling of how he had been called an ethnic slur because he could speak Spanish when he moved from Latin America as a child to a Chicago suburb. He also said he had run away from home.
Ellis was born in Bogota, Colombia, in 1940. He has an engineering degree from Princeton University, after which he joined the Navy. He left the service in 1967 to pursue law degrees from Harvard Law School and the University of Oxford, then went on to work for a private law firm until Reagan appointed him to the court.
He swore in immigrants as U.S. citizens during the first naturalization ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery in 2008. An immigrant himself, Ellis often becomes emotional each time he administers the oath of citizenship.
“I did it to honor our country’s warriors and to give the new citizens a sense for what makes this country great,” Ellis said of why he chose to hold the ceremony at the cemetery instead of the U.S. courthouse in Alexandria.
Manafort is not the only high-profile case Ellis has presided over. He sentenced John Walker Lindh, an American citizen who trained with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and was captured during the 2001 U.S. invasion, to 20 years in prison without parole. In 2006, he sentenced a former Defense Department employee to almost 13 years in prison for spying on behalf of an Israeli diplomat and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.