Soon after Paul Manafort learned of the additional years he’ll serve in a federal prison, his attorney, Kevin Downing, spoke briefly to reporters outside the courthouse. It seemed likely the lawyer would offer a few perfunctory comments about his client’s remorse, thank the judge, and move on.
But that’s not quite what happened.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” Downing said to a phalanx of journalists. “For anyone who was in the courtroom today, what I’m about to say will not be a surprise. Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of any Russian collusion in this case.” It was at this point when protesters started shouting that Manafort’s lawyers was clearly lying.
But Downing kept going, adding, “Two courts have ruled no evidence of any collusion with any Russians.”
There are a couple of relevant angles to this. The first is that Judge Amy Berman Jackson most certainly did not make any such concession. As the Washington Post explained:
Manafort’s legal team had suggested repeatedly in its sentencing memo that the fact that he hadn’t been found to have colluded with Russia should be a mitigating factor when it came to how much time he would serve in prison. But Jackson not only rejected that argument in sentencing him to 43 additional months in prison, she also rejected the entire argument behind it.
“The ‘no collusion’ refrain that runs through the entire defense memorandum is unrelated to matters at hand,” she said. “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is simply a non sequitur.”
Then she added: “The ‘no collusion’ mantra is also not accurate, because the investigation is still ongoing.”
All of which leads to the second angle of interest: why Manafort’s lawyer would make a claim like this that was so obviously and demonstrably untrue.
The answer, in case this isn’t already painfully obvious, is that Donald Trump likes to pretend that people keep exonerating him in the Russia scandal. If Manafort’s defense team can align themselves with the president Manafort used to work for, perhaps Trump would be gracious enough to abuse his pardon powers (again) and give his former campaign chair a get-out-of-jail free card.
Whether or not this ploy will work is not yet clear – White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters this week that Trump will make a pardon decision “when he is ready” – but either way, Manafort’s lawyer is hardly being subtle.
Complicating matters, even if Kevin Downing’s gambit succeeds, it may not guarantee his client’s freedom. Almost immediately after Manafort received his sentence in federal court today, he was hit with a 16-count indictment in New York, stemming from a controversy over an alleged mortgage fraud scheme.
If convicted, Manafort faces even more time behind bars – and a president can’t pardon someone convicted of a state crime.