Short Take: Walking Humbly With Manafort (Update)

Few things are as universally misreported as federal sentencing, both because it’s hard to grasp and it involves math. Consequently, the Special Counsel’s sentencing memo regarding Paul Manafort has been largely misunderstood. The memo opens with the totally ordinary statement that Mueller’s office does not dispute the Presentence Investigation Report’s calculations of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

As an initial matter, the government agrees with the guidelines analysis in the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) and its calculation of the defendant’s Total Offense Level as 38 with a corresponding range of imprisonment of 235 to 293 months.

This is not the same as saying that “Manafort deserves up to 24.5 years in prison,” or that “Mueller’s Office Recommends Paul Manafort Serve Up to 25 Years in Prison.” Thats not remotely what Mueller’s office is saying. They are merely agreeing with the guidelines calculations, which are now advisory after Booker and will be subject to argument at sentencing, where the government may choose to address sentence or leave it to the discretion of the judge.

But the reaction to the news, fake though it may be, is what gives rise to the more interesting question. My dear pal and Georgia criminal appellate lawyer, Andrew Fleischman, noted what any principled criminal defense lawyer would see in these headlines.

I mean, Manafort isn’t the world’s best guy. But isn’t it transparently insane to put someone in prison for twenty years for a bunch of non-violent offenses?

For this, he was dragged unmercifully by the unduly passionate.* To be blunt, the nice folks who cry sad tears about our over-incarceration, the wrongful imprisonment of defendants and the gross excesses of sentencing were chomping at the bit to condemn Manafort to life plus cancer. If execution was available, they would volunteer to pull the switch.

How is it that these uberwoke folks suddenly locked arms with the prison forever crowd? My observation at the time was:

The ratio on this twit speaks volumes about people’s carceral nature. Just the other side of the blood lust.

In the responsive twits to Andrew, there were many excuses and rationalizations from both ends of the spectrum, some calling Manafort’s crimes so horrible and serious that they demanded two decades imprisonment, at least. Others compared the sentences given for drugs and rationalized that if some poor black guy can get two decades, so should Manafort. And in conjunction with this view, the fact that Manafort’s offenses were “white collar,” meaning financial and not violent or street crime, was an elitist distinction that justified no mercy.

No mercy.

It’s long been clear that the calls for ending our culture of incarceration were premised on the fallacy of the first-time, non-violent, marginalized drug user. It’s not that such a person doesn’t exist, but they are exceedingly rare. Most of the people who live on Incarceration Planet are convicted of violent crimes, have long rap sheets, and aren’t the sort of folks you would invite to your home for dinner. They’re the yucky convicts nobody wants to think about, and so we pretend they don’t exist and prefer to cry tears for the nice, clean, sad defendants.

But they’re all human beings. They’re not all nice human beings, but still human beings. So too is Paul Manafort. Granted, Manafort has done the one thing that’s unforgivable at the moment, providing aid and comfort to Darth Cheeto, which is a crime for which the woke can never forgive. So off with his head?

It may well turn out that the actual sentence imposed isn’t entirely meaningful, as Trump could certainly pardon him as he did with Crazy Joe Arpaio, who did far worse things to far more people. But that doesn’t change the rank hypocrisy the reactions to the false headlines reflected.

You can’t be all woke and teary-eyed for the excessively sentenced only when you like the poor defendant, but screaming for his head when you don’t. The tough-on-crime right does it. So the woke-as-fuck left is every bit as hateful, as carceral?

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

–Micah 6:8

Hate Manafort if you must, but if you have no mercy left for him, then you have no mercy. Your performative wokeness is just a lie you tell yourself to justify your feelings when it’s convenient. Decades in prison for Manafort is ridiculously long, no matter how visceral your disgust.

Update: Marcy Wheeler of Empty Wheel fame twitted in response to this post:

Unfortunately, Marcy prefers not to comment (though she might write a responsive post). I was unaware that Marcy was one of the people who took issue with Andrew’s post, and my post had nothing to do with her. Yet, she raises an interesting point, even if it’s orthogonal to mine. so it seemed worth noting.

*Andrew’s twit was severely “ratio’d” at first, with replies attacking him far outstripping “likes” in support of his twit. When this came on my radar, I made note of this. The ratio has since shifted in the other direction.


23 thoughts on “Short Take: Walking Humbly With Manafort (Update)

    1. SHG Post author

      The effort expended to freude one’s schaden is in direct inverse proportion to the depth of the pool of tears.

  1. Sgt. Schultz

    How did you not see this coming? Andrew wrote about “non-violent crimes,” which Marcy recast as “white collar crimes.” Does she see drugs as violent or did it just not occur to her that she moved the goal post? But that’s not really the point, as “white collar” criminals are the privilege elite rather than the marginalized, so how is any rightthinker supposed to not hate them, just because they didn’t kill or rape anyone?

    You really dropped the ball on this one, you shitlord.

    1. SHG Post author

      Marcy’s twit raised two different issues: are “white collar” sentences too low because they are as bad, if not worse, than violent crime, or are they too low relative to non-white collar sentences? These are both interesting questions, but that the reaction is more, longer, harsher incarceration for Manafort rather than lower, shorter, more merciful for everyone is where we diverge.

      1. Sgt. Schultz

        Meh. Marcy may be good with some things, but here she’s either a hypocrite or a simpleton. Not only did she play the strawman, but our scheme of punishment always placed violence to the person above all other crimes for a reason.

        She disagrees with the entirety of the legal experience (not to mention the dimwits who “like” her simplistic tweet) now? Next time some cop murders a black guy, will she argue the cop should be sentenced to less time than Manafort because one murder doesn’t do as much harm to society? Marcy is full of shit, and the reason she doesn’t comment here is because she would be exposed as either dishonest or dumb.

        1. SHG Post author

          Marcy is neither dishonest nor dumb, but I suspect she spends too much time staring into the political abyss to have a better grasp of the proportionality of crime. Andrew is a criminal defense lawyers. Marcy is not. Andrew sees it in real life. Marcy does not. So her perspective is skewed. And making such broad generalizations about the relative severity of crime never serves any useful purpose anyway. Non-lawyers can do that because they have no clue, so it’s all a steaming pile of anger about whatever is on the radar at that moment to them.

  2. Not too bright

    My question to this article is why are we using terms like “white collar crime?” Can we not in fairness to Arpaio and the drug criminal state the basis for the crimes. My limited understanding is that the crimes are not about helping Donald Trump, but providing assistance to a regime attempting to destroy a democratic govt. It’s probably important to note that his sponsors killed the inhabitants of an apartment complex to win an election. White collar crime typically signifies harming people’s livelihood through theft or hurting a business. It seems that using “white collar criminal” is more similar to describing a necessary person in El Chapo’s organization a “small time drug dealer.” It seems easy to see the results of failed states around the world. Let’s not totally hide why is was hiding the money. It wasn’t just to avoid taxes.

    1. SHG Post author

      Who is this “we” you speak of? If you want to know why other people called it “white collar,” you have to ask them. As for your chaos theory extension of Manafort’s crimes to Russia’s pogroms, that’s not how law works.

    2. phv3773

      Beneath a lot of muddle, I think there is a glimmer of truth in Mr. Too Bright’s comment. Governments are generally harsh on crime which attacks the government itself. (See Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme). However, the crimes for which Manafort is being sentenced here are economic crimes which were not direct threats to government. Mr. M’s anti-government crimes will be the subject of his next sentencing.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    It appears that the lack of mercy is because Manafort acted in the service of Donald Trump. Had it been a Democrat operative working for Hilary Clinton, I doubt the Leftist Twitter would be screaming for life plus cancer.

      1. RedditLaw

        You are, of course, totally correct. Thanks to the magic of “prosecutorial discretion”, only people from outside the tent get their undergarments inspected for fleas, and something like life plus cancer (or merely taking all their stuff) follows when something unsavory has been found. In the meantime, some of those who have provably lied to Congress (one of Michael Cohen’s offenses) or the FBI have never faced–and never will face–charges, much less punishment of the reduced white-collar nature of which Ms. Wheeler complains.

  4. Jake

    “It’s long been clear that the calls for ending our culture of incarceration were premised on the fallacy of the first-time, non-violent, marginalized drug user. It’s not that such a person doesn’t exist, but they are exceedingly rare. Most of the people who live on Incarceration Planet are convicted of violent crimes, have long rap sheets, and aren’t the sort of folks you would invite to your home for dinner.”

    Cute turn of phrase, but not very specific. Most of the woke I know/follow would like to see less non-violent drug offenders imprisoned across local, state, and federal correctional facilities -a population which is statistically significant, particularly when considering those held in pre-trial detention. None have ever added the qualifiers ‘first time & marginalized’ to their arguments. I’ll join you in pointing out the ‘fallacy’ if and when I come across it.

    But even setting aside the misleading nature of this passage, your intent is most disappointing because you didn’t need a strawman to make the point: Manafort’s sentence is too much. Even the most woke among your little corner of the internet can see it.

      1. Jake

        A point that will be well received and considered when you can demonstrate anyone who matters has called for there to be a reduction in first time, marginalized, non-violent drug offenders on planet incarceration.

        1. Ron

          Next time you go to your shrink, mention that you might have a serious narcissism problem going on that makes you think you’re the center of the universe. She can add it to the list.

          1. SHG Post author

            It’s my fault. Perhaps I shouldn’t have posted Jake’s comment. I appreciate things Jake has done to help me and don’t want to shut him down, but his comments are off the charts, both in worthlessness and narcissism, and he doesn’t seem to hear what people are telling him and to chill out a bit. Well, a lot.

          2. Jake

            Calling the bad progressive man who dares to point out ideological rhetoric names adds nothing to the conversation, other than the voices inside your head, Ron.

            1. SHG Post author

              I realize you believe you’re fighting the good culture war here, but that’s a delusion you harbor. You didn’t point anything out to anyone. What you fail to grasp is that if your experience is real or common, then it will be the same for other people and no one needs you to tell them what they know for themselves. That no one else seems to share your experience doesn’t mean you get to tell them, but that you’re the clueless guy in the room. And yet, you keep fighting the good culture war fight.

              Jake, no one needs to “prove” anything to you. You are not SJ. Whether you agree is irrelevant to anyone else here, and your comments reflect a serious narcissism problem. You take up way too much space here lately, contribute nothing anyone else finds remotely useful and just keep digging yourself deeper into your hole. It’s time for you to chill out, old friend. You do yourself no good. You do no one else any good. And you don’t even bring the humor of a Billy or Barleycorn. Time to stop, Jake. Sorry, but I’m doing this for your own good.

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