Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said Judge Ellis’s sentence seemed strangely light, especially given that the judge denied every objection raised by Mr. Manafort’s lawyers to the sentencing guidelines. “He refuted all of the arguments of the defense, yet ultimately ruled very much in favor of their client,” Mr. Tobias said.
He was also struck, he said, by the judge’s praise of Mr. Manafort’s character. “He’s lived an otherwise blameless life,” Judge Ellis said of a man who acknowledged orchestrating a sophisticated financial fraud scheme that lasted a decade. “And he’s also earned the admiration of a number of people.”
To the very end, Judge Ellis showed his distaste for special counsels. He said the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, had the authority to prosecute Mr. Manafort, but “that doesn’t mean that I decided the wisdom or appropriateness of delegating to special prosecutors broad powers.” Judge Ellis cut off a prosecutor as he tried to explain the special counsel’s position on the appropriate fine for Mr. Manafort, admonishing: “That’s the government’s position. I don’t want to hear special counsel.”
The defense has played on the judge’s sentiments, insisting that Mr. Manafort has been relentlessly pursued for garden-variety crimes only because of his importance to the special counsel’s inquiry into Russian interference in 2016 presidential election. On Thursday, Kevin Downing, Mr. Manafort’s lead lawyer, took up that refrain again, repeatedly saying that a local United States attorney’s office would have handled the case differently.
In federal court in Washington, where Judge Amy Berman Jackson will sentence Mr. Manafort next week on two conspiracy charges, that strategy has been noticeably less effective.
Some legal experts suggested that Mr. Mueller’s team might respond to Judge Ellis’s decision by asking Judge Jackson for a specific sentence on the two conspiracy charges, which each carry a maximum penalty of five years.
But few expect her to be influenced by the Virginia judge’s decision. “It’s not her job to use her sentence as a moment to correct what she thinks went wrong in this case,” Ms. Barkow said.
One of the biggest issues remaining for Mr. Manafort is whether he will be allowed to serve out his two sentences simultaneously. Prosecutors have taken no stand on that so far, but indicated in a sentencing memorandum that they might do so after Judge Ellis’s decision.