AOC gets it wrong in tweet about Manafort 'solitary confinement'

Image: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends at a House Oversight and Reform committee hearing on facial recognition technology in government, on June 4, 2019, on Capitol Hill.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

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By Allan Smith

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., sent a tweet Wednesday that opposed putting Paul Manafort in "solitary confinement" if he is moved to a jail in New York City. That possibility, however, appears to be incorrect. Officials told NBC News that Manafort would not be placed in a solitary unit, which is considered a punishment, but if transferred to New York would be given his own cell for his safety.

The New York Times article that Ocasio-Cortez cited, which raised the possibility Manafort could be sent to Rikers Island, contained no mention of solitary confinement, only isolation, and noted that high-profile inmates are sometimes placed into "protective custody" for their own safety from the general prison population. Ocasio-Cortez said she opposed solitary confinement for all prisoners, which she likened to torture.

Ocasio-Cortez may have raised the solitary issue because of the Times' initial headline, which read: "Paul Manafort to be sent to Rikers, where he faces solitary confinement." That headline was later changed. The latest version of the headline reads, "Paul Manafort to Be Sent to Rikers, Where He Will Be Held in Isolation."

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Ocasio-Cortez followed up with a tweet later Monday in which she said, "NYT used the term solitary confinement, & that’s what I am commenting on."

Manafort's impending transfer from a minimum-security federal prison in Pennsylvania to New York City is because of state mortgage fraud charges the Manhattan district attorney filed against him earlier this year to better ensure that Trump does not pardon his former campaign chairman, who is serving a seven-and-a-half-year federal prison sentence, of his earlier conviction.

Last year, Manafort was convicted on federal bank fraud, tax and conspiracy charges in two related cases.

The Times reported Tuesday that Manafort is expected to be transferred to Rikers Island in New York within a few weeks, the city's largest jail complex, where he will most likely be held in isolation, multiple sources said.

But Manafort's transfer to Rikers Island is not assured. A person familiar with the case told NBC News his transfer could happen this month, but no date or decision has been reached. Should he be transferred to New York City, Manafort also has several options for where he can be held in addition to Rikers Island.

Nevertheless, Manafort would not be in "solitary confinement," a New York City Department of Corrections official told NBC News. Manafort may be held in isolation for protective reasons, but that would not carry the same conditions as being held in solitary confinement, which is a punitive designation.

Manafort's attorney Todd Blanche told NBC News on Tuesday he expects his client to be arraigned in New York next week, saying Manafort had hoped to stay at the Pennsylvania facility Loretto. Blanche said he is not sure where his client will be held in New York City, and that there had been no mention of Rikers Island.

"He's a 70-year-old man and he spent the last year of his life in solitary confinement," Blanche said. "I think having him spend his time in Loretto, where he's in general population and his family can visit him, is a much fairer and appropriate result for him."

On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a 2020 presidential candidate, assured in a press conference that Manafort will "be treated, as much as humanly possible, like any other inmate, and would have the same rights and responsibilities," if he is transferred to Rikers Island.

"Obviously, there are safety questions that have to be attended to," he said.

Rich Schapiro contributed.