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Manafort's light sentence slammed as 'disrespectful,' 'lenient,' 'an outrage'

"If you rob a bank you’re going to spend twice as long in prison as someone who steals millions otherwise," one observer said.
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Legal observers were surprised by the relatively light, 47-month sentence received Thursday by President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted in August on charges of tax and bank fraud.

The 69-year-old, who appeared in the court in Virginia in a wheelchair and pleaded for compassion, could have been sentenced to up to 24 years in federal prison.

With time served, Thursday's sentence means Manafort could spend a little more than three years behind bars for this case.

"As a former prosecutor, I'm embarrassed," said NBC News and MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner, speaking Thursday on MSNBC. "As an American, I'm upset ... I am just as disappointed with Judge Ellis. It's an outrage and it's disrespectful of the American people."

Paul Manafort seated in a wheelchair next to his lawyers in Virginia federal court on March 7, 2019.Art Lien

Former federal prosecutor Laurie L. Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said, "I'm somewhat surprised."

"This is so much more lenient than what the guidelines would be," she said. "Manafort’s personal plea and frail condition probably did make a difference."

Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California responded to the light sentence with irony, saying on "All In With Chris Hayes," "I think I spent more days in detention in high school than Judge Ellis thinks that Paul Manafort should spend in jail for what he did to defraud the United States."

Many other observers highlighted the disparity between punishments for white-collar crime like Manafort's and street crime, and between the sentences for wealthy people and everyone else.

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said, "In our current broken system, 'justice' isn't blind, it's bought."

Rob Flaherty, who has worked for progressive advocacy organizations, tweeted a link to an article about a black man getting sentenced to 12 years in Mississippi for medical marijuana he bought legally in another state.

"Crimes committed in an office building should be treated as seriously as crimes committed on a street corner," Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said on Twitter.

At Brooklyn Defender Services in New York, which provides legal services to low-income people, Scott Hechinger posted a series of tweets, such as one saying, "My client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters."

"I prosecuted white collar crime and typically they get lighter sentences," Levenson said. "If you rob a bank you’re going to spend twice as long in prison as someone who steals millions otherwise."

Some of the negative reaction was aimed at the judge who set the sentence. Judge T.S. Ellis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia said the possible long sentence for Manafort under federal guidelines was "excessive" and said Manafort "has lived an otherwise blameless life."

"Judge Ellis has inexcusably perverted justice and the guidelines," Harvard Law School professor and Trump critic Laurence Tribe tweeted.

Former federal prosecutor Harry Litman tweeted that Ellis is known for "arbitrary and capricious" sentencing but "this is a totally crazy and exorbitant departure."

Manafort faces sentencing in a separate federal case in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.