The report in The New York Times that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort would be transferred to RIKERS ISLAND, a notorious maximum-security prison considered to be one of the very worst in the U.S., to await trial on state charges in New York came out on June 4. But since then, it’s been challenging to find out the status of his case.
Reporters love to break stories, but they can be terrible on follow-up. We never saw any reports of his actual transfer, which was originally scheduled, I think, for the Thursday following the announcement and surely would have made big news. Yet we didn't hear about any efforts being made to keep him out of there, either. It all must have been played very close to the vest.
But finally, this Monday, the NYT reported some heartening news (not heartening to the NYT, I’m sure, but definitely to us): that deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen had written to Manhattan prosecutors last week concerning the transfer, and also that federal prison officials had informed the Manhattan district attorney’s office that Manafort would NOT be moving to Rikers, so there. State prison officials had been planning to hold him in isolation there.
Manafort is currently being held in a minimum-security Pennsylvania prison, the type of facility nonviolent offenders typically go, serving a 7-1/2 year sentence that came with the plea deal he made last September. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges related to his work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, including failure to disclose income and to also register as an agent for a foreign entity (a law that many lobbyists have violated and not been prosecuted for). The special counsel team was very much involved in his prosecution, even though the charges had nothing to do with whether or not the Trump campaign “colluded” with Russia. (When the Mueller report came out, there was no case for “collusion”/conspiracy on the part of Trump or any other American he investigated.)
But now, in New York State, Manafort is facing 16 felony counts, including residential mortgage fraud. We’ve learned that members of the Mueller team were involved in bringing these state charges as well. More on that below, as another breaking story, a decision from the Supreme Court, bears on New York’s ability to charge him at the state level –- and it doesn’t look good for him.
According to the NYT, he’ll likely continue to be held in Pennsylvania, but it’s possible that while awaiting trial, he’ll be held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. That’s got to be much more appropriate than Rikers, which is a hellish nightmare of a place, where conditions are such that someone like Manafort, a nonviolent, 70-year-old man in poor health and confined to a wheelchair, might not survive the first day.
“Highly unusual” but “not inappropriate” was how top Justice Department officials described this move to stop Manafort’s transfer. I would say that if this is highly unusual, the same could be said of the circumstances. For a nonviolent offender to be sent to a place like that even before being convicted of anything is a travesty. This decision was made not in the name of justice, but in the name of politics. Manafort is collateral damage in an effort to get President Trump. That’s not supposed to happen in this country.
Manafort has been convicted of crimes, and I’m not defending what he did. At the same time, it sure looks like a case of selective prosecution. The judge in his federal case was not born yesterday; he knew what was going on in his courtroom and even remarked about prosecutors who try to get defendants to “sing” or “compose,” meaning, in this case, against the President. Apparently, Manafort still hasn’t done any singing or composing, which would explain the attempted transfer to Rikers, where he would have been held in cruel isolation for 23 hours out of every 24.
Ex-cons who have been held this way will tell you: It’s soulless. It’s torture. It breaks you. (In fact, that’s the idea.) As for the claims that isolation was “for his own protection,” they’d say that’s bunk –- that “PC,” or “protective custody,” really doesn’t protect anyone who’s been targeted by someone determined to get at him.
As we’ve discussed before, President Trump has the authority to pardon Manafort at any time for his federal convictions. (Of course, if he had done this before the special counsel report was issued, his political enemies would have screamed “Obstruction!!”) But he has no such authority to pardon for state crimes. As the theory goes, that’s why state prosecutors went after Manafort even though he was already convicted and imprisoned: it was to keep him out of reach of Trump’s pardon. Not that Trump has even said he’d pardon Manafort; this is a preemptive show of power by his political enemies in New York.
Now, at this point, one might be asking: if Manafort has already taken a plea deal that dispensed with the charges New York now wants to prosecute him for, isn’t that double jeopardy, which is unconstitutional? One might think it was, especially since BOTH cases against Manafort stem from the special counsel investigation and involve an overlapping cast of characters. But according to a 7-2 Supreme Court decision handed down today, the federal government and any given state government constitute two separate entities; this so-called “dual sovereign” doctrine was left in place. Translation: SCOTUS has ruled that separate federal and state charges for the same offense do not constitute double jeopardy.
The case the justices looked at was that of Terance Gamble of Alabama, who was prosecuted for the same gun offense in both federal and state courts. SCOTUS ruled that he did not face double jeopardy. So what about Manafort? The state charges he now faces “echo” those he faced in federal court but that were dealt with as part of his guilty plea. This begs the question, so what good is a plea deal, anyway?
It’s interesting that the two dissenters were Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Neil Gorsuch, two justices with quite different judicial philosophies. According to Ginsberg, the separate sets of rights for each form of government (state and federal) were intended to secure the rights of the people, not to allow the further prosecution of crimes. And Gorsuch articulated something with which Manafort’s attorneys would surely concur: that a “free society does not allow its government to try the same individual for the same crime until it’s happy with the result,” and also that the dual sovereign doctrine “finds no meaningful support in the text of the Constitution, its original public meaning, structure, or history.”
As reported by THE HILL, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance waited mere moments after Manafort was sentenced in federal court to reveal his state-level indictment for mortgage fraud. Recall that Cyrus Vance is the illustrious prosecutor who called for Manafort to be transferred to Rikers Island. This tells us all we need to know about Cyrus Vance, along with the whole consortium of prosecutorial scum who have been using Manafort to wage war against Trump.