Paul Manafort, the former chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was released from federal prison and will serve the remainder of his 7.5 year sentence from home due to fears that the 71-year-old felon could contract the novel COVID-19 coronavirus, his attorneys Todd Blanche and Kevin Downing confirmed to several news outlets Wednesday morning.
Manafort was one of the first people convicted in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling. A Virginia jury found him guilty of tax fraud, bank fraud, and failure to disclose a foreign bank account in 2018. Manafort then pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice in Washington, D.C.
Manafort was originally slated for release from the low-security Federal Correctional Institution Loretto prison in Pennsylvania in November 2024, but his age and underlying health conditions made him particularly vulnerable to the disease which has ravaged prison populations by spreading extremely quickly among inmates forced to live in tight quarters.
Manafort suffered a “cardiac event” in December that left him hospitalized. His health became a topic of concern in 2018 when he appeared for a court hearing in a wheelchair. He explained to the court that he required the wheelchair due to serious medical conditions related to his prison diet. He requested leniency in his sentencing due to his rapidly deteriorating health.
Manafort’s release comes on the heels of Attorney General William Barr ordering the Bureau of Prisons earlier this year to expedite the release of eligible high-risk inmates to home confinement.
But the decision to allow Manafort to finish his sentence in home confinement drew immediate comparisons to another former member of Trump’s inner-circle: the president’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Cohen was reportedly promised early release from federal prison in Otisville, New York — where more than a dozen inmates and staff have tested positive for the coronavirus — before that offer was apparently rescinded by prison officials without explanation. A judge refused to let Cohen out early through judicial intervention. Cohen famously turned on President Trump, while Manafort, a judge found, lied after cutting a plea deal with the Mueller probe. Prosecutors said Manafort lied about sharing Trump campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian and Ukrainian national political consultant.
CBS News noted that Manafort’s lawyers made a statement exactly one month ago that there were “no reported cases of COVID-19 at FCI Loretto” at that time. Current Bureau of Prisons data indicates that this has not changed.
Although the White House denied having any role in Cohen’s sentencing, the mysterious reversal came shortly after one of Trump’s personal lawyers warned Cohen not to go forward with plans to publish a tell-all book ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
Former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said the disparity reeked of political favoritism.
“Paul Manafort released (way) early due to pandemic. Michael Cohen set to be released and then blocked. Apparently DOJ / Bureau of Prisons is willing to play politics relating to everything and anything whatsoever,” he wrote on Twitter.
Former federal prosecutor and University of Alabama law professor Joyce White Vance also pointed out that Manafort had not served enough of his sentence to qualify for the early release.
Others, such as Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman, also saw political machinations at play here.
[image via Alexandria Detention Center]
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