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Manafort's lawyers appealed for mercy -- but not from the judge

Dana Milbank on

WASHINGTON -- In the final moments before Paul Manafort's sentencing Wednesday, the former Trump campaign chief's lawyers appealed for mercy -- but not necessarily from the judge.

Convictions for tax and bank fraud, illegal lobbying and witness tampering have been "very hard" on his client, Kevin Downing pleaded in U.S. District Court in Washington on Wednesday. "The media attention, the political motivation … is so unreal."

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson cut him off. "Whose political motivation?" she asked.

Downing fumbled like Sarah Palin replying to Katie Couric: "Everybody out there," he said.

The judge pressed: Was Downing accusing the special counsel of political motivation?

"No," Downing said, retreating.

 

But that is exactly what he -- and Manafort -- have been insinuating.

President Trump and Manafort have been using their public statements to coordinate with each other with the rhythm of synchronized swimmers. Trump praises Manafort for not flipping on him, and Manafort's lawyers dutifully repeat Trump's mantras -- that there was "no collusion" between the campaign and Russia and that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has taken a partisan detour. It's clear Manafort's hope, if not expectation, is for Trump to pardon him.

The judge was wise to the signaling. After Downing suggested Wednesday that Manafort's manifold crimes wouldn't have been prosecuted "but for a short stint as a campaign manager in a presidential election," Jackson unloaded on him.

The defense's "repeated" claim that Manafort wouldn't have been charged but for the special counsel, she said, "falls flat" and "is not supported by the record." In an apparent reference to Trump, the judge speculated that the claim "was being repeated for some other audience."

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