FILE PHOTO: President Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort departs U.S. District Court after a motions hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., May 4,...
Jonathan Ernst

Manafort, who led Trump’s campaign, receives longer prison sentence

The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/11/19, 9:00 PM ET

Closer look at Manafort lie raises new questions about Trump PAC

Christina Wilkie, White House reporter for CNBC.com, talks with Rachel Maddow about her reporting on how a Paul Manafort lie led to the discovery of an apparent kickback scheme in the Donald Trump campaign’s largest PAC, and the new questions that have
Last week, Paul Manafort caught a break. After having been convicted of a variety of felonies, including tax crimes and bank fraud, the Republican operative who led Donald Trump’s political operation in 2016, faced the prospect of decades in a federal prison. Instead, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis went easy on Manafort, sentencing him to 47 months.

It was, however, one of two shoes to drop. Manafort was also convicted of a different set of felonies in a D.C. court, and appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson this morning to learn of the rest of his sentence.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced Wednesday to 43 additional months in prison by a federal judge in Washington on conspiracy charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Manafort, 69, had faced up to 10 years behind bars after pleading guilty to the two charges related to undisclosed lobbying work he did for pro-Russian political figures in Ukraine.

Though this admittedly gets a little confusing, between the two different prison sentences, the sentences that will run concurrently, and time served, Manafort will end up serving about seven years behind bars.

And while that’s hardly good news for the 69-year-old operative who isn’t in the best of health, given the number of felonies for which he’s been convicted, and the sentencing guidelines already in place, Manafort’s prison sentence could’ve been much, much worse.

There was a very real possibility that Manafort would spend the rest of his natural life in a federal penitentiary. Now, as an actuarial matter, that seems less likely.

While I don’t doubt that his sentences will be the subject of considerable debate, I still think there’s a historical angle to these circumstances that’s worth appreciating.

As we discussed last week, the fact remains that we’ve never seen these developments: the man who led the sitting president’s political operation has been convicted of many felonies and sentenced to spend much of the next decade in prison.

The last time we saw anything like this was 1975, when John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s former campaign manager, was also sent to prison, though by that point, Nixon had already resigned in disgrace. Nearly a half-century later, the circumstances are a little worse – because Trump is still in office.

That’s no small development. Imagine, for example, what the response would be from the political world if, in Hillary Clinton’s first term as president, her campaign chairman was convicted of multiple felonies and sentenced to years in a federal penitentiary.

I think it’s likely that it would cause quite a stir, regardless of whether the sentences were in line with federal sentencing guidelines or not.

The president who assured voters that he’d only surround himself with “the best” people ended up surrounding himself with a wide variety of felons – and that’s both a tough dynamic to defend and an embarrassment of historic proportions.

Postscript: On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about a possible pardon for Manafort from Donald Trump. “The president has made his position on that clear,” she responded, “and he’ll make a decision when he is ready.”

Just a little detail to keep in mind going forward.

Manafort, who led Trump's campaign, receives longer prison sentence