The good news for Paul Manafort, a former campaign chairman for Donald Trump, is that his chances of getting out of prison alive are looking better.
Manafort on Thursday was sentenced to 47 months in prison for tax and bank fraud related to his work advising Ukrainian politicians with links to Russia.
The 69-year-old veteran lobbyist and political consultant had faced around 20 years under federal sentencing guidelines, but Virginia U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis called that calculation “excessive.”
Ellis noted that Manafort was not convicted “for anything to do with Russian colluding in the presidential election.” Special counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors have noted his contacts with Russian-linked operatives, including handing over campaign polling data.
It's still the toughest punishment for a Mueller target so far. Manafort, locked up nine months ago for witness tampering, was the biggest fish netted to date in Mueller's investigation. Manafort still faces additional sentencing next week in the District of Columbia, where he pleaded guilty in a separate case connected to illegal lobbying and could get up to 10 years.
His attorneys say Manafort is “truly remorseful,” but their client, speaking from a wheelchair, did not apologize for his crimes.
Trump has spoken only sympathetically about Manafort, tweeting he felt "very badly" for him after his conviction last August. The president also praised Manafort for not flipping on him, saying that "unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal.' Such respect for a brave man!" Trump also has held open the option of granting him a pardon.
Says who? Said you!
Michael Cohen isn't sticking to his entire story, or at least the impression he left when he told the House Oversight Committee last week that he "never asked for ... nor would I accept" a pardon from Trump.
After the feds raided him but before he broke a legal defense alliance with the president, Trump asked his then-lawyer Stephen Ryan to raise the pardon question with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Cohen's current legal team tried to argue his testimony was "literally true" because Trump's side had been dangling the idea of pardons to targets of Trump-related investigations, and Cohen had his lawyers make inquiries instead of doing it himself. But Cohen's claim to having become a latter-day truth-teller is looking shakier.
In another development, Newsday's John Riley reports Cohen filed a lawsuit against the Trump Organization, accusing it of breaking a promise to pay his $1.9 million in legal bills. ABC News reported a "source close to the Trump Organization" called the suit "laughable" and cracked: “I guess the GoFundMe page didn’t work out so well.”
Janison: Puzzle pieces
Digging by journalists and others constantly produce new revelations about the Trump administration, but as Newsday's Dan Janison notes, there are plenty of unsolved mysteries.
For example, it was recently reported that Trump made sure son-in-law Jared Kushner got a top security clearance despite CIA objections. Not known: the CIA's objections. Did the White House ever learn the source of the anonymous "senior official" who wrote a New York Times op-ed six months ago belittling the president as "impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective?" If they did, they haven't said.
Also, how much longer will Trump stand by his claim that he can't disclose his tax returns because they're under audit?
Census question defies sense?
A federal judge ruled that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acted in “bad faith,” broke several laws and violated the Constitution when he added a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
It's the second ruling in favor of critics who charge the ulterior motive is to suppress the count, especially of Latinos, in states with significant foreign-born populations by discouraging immigrants, including the undocumented, from cooperating.
Ross claimed he was acting at the request of the Justice Department to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, but Judge Richard Seeborg said the “evidence establishes” that was just “a pretext."
The census battle is already headed to the Supreme Court.
Is Biden in? Almost
Former Vice President Joe Biden is still thinking about it, but is said by aides to be 95 percent committed to running for president, The New York Times reported.
If he gets in, Biden likely would be at or near the front of the Democratic pack and the early favorite of the centrist wing. In the meantime, parts of Biden's long political record that could give qualms to liberals and progressives are bubbling to the surface, including a florid 1993 speech in favor of a crime bill and his role in a 1975 fight against busing for school desegregation in Delaware.
What else is happening:
- Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a progressive Rust Belt Democrat, announced Thursday that he will not run for president in 2020.
- While other 2020 candidates are getting home-state endorsements, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's bid has yet to win a single one from New York's House Democrats, The New York Times writes. She is largely a bystander in the state's intraparty politics and, while respected, is neither feared nor beloved, the report said.
- Hillary Clinton has a long way to go to catch up to Trump's litany of false charges about voting irregularities, but she's on the board. Her recent claims of losing tens of thousands of Wisconsin votes in 2016 to suppression tactics got a four-Pinocchio rating from The Washington Post and a "pants on fire" from PolitiFact.
- Among all the colorful characters who've moved through Trump's orbit, from Cohen to Omarosa Manigault Newman to Roger Stone to Anthony Scaramucci, one stands out for dullness, The Associated Press writes. Nonetheless, Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization chief financial officer, looms as an increasingly important figure in various Trump investigations.
- Like Trump, Kim Jong Un is trying to put the best face on their failed summit to his domestic audience. North Korea’s state TV has aired a documentary glorifying Kim's trip, calling the meetings “yet another meaningful incident on the issue of world peace.”
- Soon-to-depart Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, often on the wrong side of Trump, closed a speech Thursday with this line: "In the spirit of promoting a culture of integrity, I want to leave you with the wisdom of this ancient proverb: if you desire to know a person’s character, consider his friends."