Making sense of the Manafort sentences and the pardon possibilities

Image: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort departs after a bond hea
Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman for U.S. President Donald Trump, departs after a bond hearing as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing Russia investigation, at U.S. District Court in Washington on Dec. 11, 2017. Copyright Joshua Roberts Reuters file
By Danny Cevallos with NBC News Politics
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Legal analysis: President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman got some good news and some bad news.


Overall, Wednesday was a fairly successful outcome for Paul Manafort and his defense team.

Manafort, Donald Trump's onetime campaign chairman, was sentenced in federal court to aprison term of 60 months by Judge Amy Berman Jackson in the District of Columbia. Thirty months of that sentence will be served partially concurrent to his 47 month sentence imposed by Judge T. S. Ellis last week in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia. The remaining 30 months of Judge Berman's sentence will be served consecutive to his prior sentence, which means the clock on the D.C. sentence will not start to run until he has completed serving the first sentence.

All told, Manafort was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, but he's getting credit for 9 months of time served. Trump said shortly after the sentencing that he'd given no thought to a pardon, although the president said he felt "very badly" for his former associate.

Manafort pleaded guilty in the D.C. case to two counts: One count of conspiracy against the U.S. and another count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

In most cases, the sentencing Guidelines range is lower than the maximum possible punishment. Manafort's D.C. case, however, was the less common case where the advisory Guidelines range was so high, it exceeded the maximum possible sentence.

Manafort's statutory maximum sentence was was 10 years, or 120 months.

Manafort's guideline range was much higher than that: 188 to 235 months. That's due in part to the fact that Manafort stood before Jackson as with a criminal history, as a sentenced felon.

In cases like this, when the Guidelines range exceeds the maximum, the range just "becomes" the same as maximum sentence: 120 months. Jackson sentenced Manafort to half that — 60 months.

Arguably, the Manafort team's bigger concern was whether Jackson would impose consecutive sentences, or concurrent sentences. She did both.

Federal law provides that if a sentence is imposed on a defendant who is already serving another term of imprisonment, the terms may run concurrently or consecutively. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which the courts are required to consider, similarly allow a judge broad discretion in crafting a concurrent, consecutive or even a "partially concurrent" sentence.

In certain cases, the Guidelines call for a consecutive sentence, such as when the defendant committed the crime after being sentenced in an earlier case. That's not the case with Manafort, because he did not commit the D.C. crimes in the week after he was sentenced in the Virginia case.

Otherwise, the central aim of Guidelines in the consecutive vs. concurrent analysis is to ensure that the defendant is not punished twice for the same crime. If the earlier sentence resulted from another offense that is "relevant conduct" to the second sentence, then the Guidelines suggest that the sentence for the new crime should have run concurrently to the remainder of the existing prison term.

But here's the catch: The Sentencing Guidelines have not been mandatory for well over a decade, ever since the 2005 Supreme Court decision U.S. v. Booker. Because of the advisory nature of the Guidelines, Jackson had no obligation to impose a concurrent or partially concurrent sentence, even if the Guidelines called for a concurrent sentence.

Jackson's sentence is an example of the considerable discretion afforded judges in the modern federal sentencing scheme: A partially concurrent sentence, well below the advisory Guidelines range.

Meanwhile, Manafort's legal woes are just beginning in state court.

Moments after the D.C. sentence was imposed, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced an indictment charging Manafort with 16 state crimes, including mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records.

A presidential pardon is ineffective against state crimes.

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