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Politics and Government

News Brief: Paul Manafort, House Anti-Semitism Vote, Tornado Aftermath


The man who stood on stage with Donald Trump when he accepted the Republican nomination for president has now been sentenced to almost four years in prison.


Forty-seven months, to be precise, which is far less than what federal sentencing guidelines would suggest for the kinds of financial crimes that Paul Manafort was convicted of. Last year, President Trump's former campaign chairman was found guilty of hiding millions of dollars that he made as a lobbyist for Ukrainian politicians. He was also convicted of lying about his finances in order to get bank loans. The case against Manafort emerged as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian influence in the U.S. election in 2016. Here's Manafort's lawyer Kevin Downing speaking after the sentencing.


KEVIN DOWNING: Most importantly, what you saw today is the same thing that we had said from day one. There is absolutely no evidence that Paul Manafort was involved with any collusion with any government official from Russia.

MARTIN: NPR's Ryan Lucas was at the hearing yesterday and is in our studios this morning. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So the federal guidelines' range for sentencing Manafort in this case was 19 to 24 years.

LUCAS: Right.

MARTIN: He got substantially less than that. Why?

LUCAS: Well, it's not unusual for sentencing in white-collar tax cases to fall below the federal guidelines. Judges often decide to impose something below that. In federal court in Alexandria, Va., yesterday, the presiding judge, T.S. Ellis, called the guidelines' range in Manafort's case excessive. He said that it's way out of whack.

The sentencing judge takes a bunch of things into account when coming up with a sentence. The guidelines are just one of them. Ellis noted that Manafort was a first-time offender. He'd lived what he called an otherwise blameless life. He gave him 47 months, so three years, 11 months, also imposed nearly 25 million in restitution. He gave Manafort credit for nine months he'd already serve behind bars. And Ellis defended his decision, saying anyone who scoffs at this sentence should go spend a day in a federal penitentiary.

MARTIN: (Laughter) But Manafort could end up spending even more time because there's another case against him - right? - that's still pending the sentence.

LUCAS: That's right. That case is here in Washington, D.C. It's separate from the one in Virginia but related in a way. It was also brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In D.C., Manafort pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges. He also agreed to cooperate with the government. That all blew up, though, earlier this year when the special counsel's team said that he lied to investigators about a number of things. The judge in that case ruled that Manafort did indeed lie about three things in total.

The maximum sentence that Manafort faces in D.C. is 10 years. The big question hanging over this for Judge Amy Berman Jackson in D.C. is whether any sentence that she imposes on Manafort will be served simultaneously to the one in Virginia or staggered. So he could end up getting 10 years on top of what he got in Virginia.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, it's notable he never apologized, right? Like, Manafort himself, when he appeared here. And those out there have suggested that that could be some kind of effort to get a presidential pardon. Is that in the offing?

LUCAS: Well, there is no talk of a presidential pardon at this time. I spoke with the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, about the question of pardons yesterday. He says there's no discussion, no consideration. Nothing is going to happen as long as Mueller investigation is going on. But, of course, the president has not himself taken that question off the table.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Ryan Lucas for us this morning. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you.


MARTIN: Congressional Democrats want to get on the other side of a debate about anti-Semitism that has divided their party.

INSKEEP: This started, you'll recall, when Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar made comments that were widely seen as anti-Semitic. She spoke, among other things, of supporters of Israel as people with allegiance to a foreign country. Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria is Jewish and served in the Navy.


ELAINE LURIA: Am I to look back on my military career and the sacrifices it meant for my family and remain silent in the face of people questioning my loyalty to our country?

INSKEEP: Clearly some Democrats were upset. Omar also had her supporters within her party. And the Democratic-controlled House passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism only after it was broadened to condemn other forms of hate too.

MARTIN: Okay. So NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is in the studio with us this morning to talk about this. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So the House took this vote - this began as an effort to censure Ilhan Omar about these anti-Semitic remarks, and then it became something a lot bigger. What happened?

DAVIS: It was on again and off again throughout the week. In the early part of the week, senior party leaders, party chairmen like House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel of New York, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, they wanted to move fast. They were going to put a resolution on the floor that did not name the Minnesota congresswoman but did broadly condemn anti-Semitism. And they had to pull back after a private meeting with Democrats on Wednesday in which a lot of people came to her defense - younger freshmen like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other freshmen from New York, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who voiced a lot of reservations about what they were doing.

They decided to pull it from the floor and then retracted that decision on Thursday in a hastily decision to put it back on the floor, in part because they were afraid that the House Republicans were going to try to embarrass them on the floor and put something of their own. So the - in order to get everybody on board, they had to expand what they were condemning to Islamophobia, to white supremacy and essentially all forms of hatred and bigotry.

MARTIN: Wow. So something that started off specific became we, the House of Representatives, reject hate.

DAVIS: Correct.

MARTIN: How - go ahead, Steve.

INSKEEP: Well, you can see the awkwardness here because there has been this other debate around the Black Lives Matter movement. And there were some politicians in the Democratic Party who tried to say All Lives Matter, and it was pointed out that's inappropriate. That's inaccurate. It's something that a lot of Democrats wouldn't get behind. And so you have a somewhat analogous situation here, where anti-Semitism matters went to all hate matters.

DAVIS: And Democrats ultimately did vote for it. But I do think it exposed a lot of divisions. It showed that Democrats are divided over whether her comments were even anti-Semitic. They are divided over how aggressive lawmakers can and should criticize Israel and U.S. foreign policy towards Israel. And it also showed how uncomfortable a lot of Democrats were with how quickly Congress moved to rebuke a young African-American woman, one of the first Muslim women in Congress, especially when, you know - I've covered the place a long time - lots of members say lots of offensive things in lots of different occasions.

MARTIN: Right. Right.

INSKEEP: Did Democrats also think they were being targeted by cynical criticism from Republicans who have made plenty of remarks of their own?

DAVIS: You know, House Republicans have certainly seized on this. They have called for Ilhan Omar to be taken off of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Democrats have rejected that. Yes, I mean, there's a lot of eye-rolling on the Democratic side of the aisle when House Republicans are very passionately speaking against anti-Semitism and bigotry because Democrats say, look, you know, President Donald Trump himself has said before his presidency and in his presidency many offensive things. And Republicans often ignore it, do not respond to it. But when it comes to a young, black, Muslim woman, they are the first to get onto the House floor and condemn her.

MARTIN: NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis for us this morning. Sue, thank you. We appreciate it.

DAVIS: You're welcome.


MARTIN: Funerals are being held today for the 23 people killed by a tornado in Alabama last weekend.

INSKEEP: The tornado tore a path up to a mile wide as it swept through Lee County and crossed into Georgia. The National Weather Service says this was one of dozens of tornadoes triggered by a storm. Now the president's going to tour the devastated area today. Alabama Senator Doug Jones already had a look around and spoke at a news conference at a local high school.


DOUG JONES: You cannot fully appreciate what has happened here without walking through the debris, seeing the photographs, seeing the shoes, seeing the small items that are - people are trying to recover. The devastation is just - absolutely will take your breath away.

MARTIN: Journalist Robert Ray has been on the ground in Alabama reporting for The Washington Post this week and joins us now. Thanks for being here.

ROBERT RAY: Absolutely. Good morning.

MARTIN: Robert, what did you learn about the people who were killed and are being laid to rest in the coming days?

RAY: Well, you know, one of the most amazing things that has just come out in the past 24 hours, according to the coroner's office in Lee County, is that a Native American tribe called the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has donated, according to coroner's office, $180,000 to cover all the funeral costs for the 23 people killed in Sunday's tornado in the county, really just an unbelievable act of generosity. And so those folks there are starting to do the grieving process and, really, a terrible scenario. One of the families there lost 10 family members, if you can imagine. So they're going through a lot. And as Doug Jones said in the soundbite you had earlier, you have to really be there to understand the devastation.

MARTIN: Right. What did it look like to you?

RAY: Well, I tell you. I saw it from the air, and I saw it from the ground - both incredibly devastating and impressive. You know, this is a county of about 140,000 people. It is rural. It's on the border of Georgia and Alabama. And it is a swath that went a half-mile wide and 24 miles long the track of that tornado. So you can imagine all the different homes and the various communities that were ripped up by this. And when you see it in person, it never does it justice - no photograph or no video will ever show exactly the way it really is.

MARTIN: Right. So as we noted, President Trump is heading there today. And, you know, I imagine the federal government is going to have to come in and step up and help these people rebuild. What's most urgent right now? I mean, what do these communities need most?

RAY: Well, you know, immediately - well, let me just say this. First of all, the communities are taking care of themselves. I mean, these folks are giving themselves food, water, shelter. They're doing all they can to be all that they can be as people on the ground.

As far as what they need from the federal government, yes, they need funds. They need funds to try and rebuild the homes and the businesses that are there. Trump will be there today. We know that his relationship with Governor Kay Ivey is good. You know, she's requested a major disaster declaration, which President Trump has approved for Lee County. And certainly, you know, I think that according to the people that I've talked to on the ground, his presence will be well thought of. Remember, back in 2011, during the Tuscaloosa tornado...

MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah.

RAY: ...President Obama showed up then. And so, you know, people in Alabama, they want that sort of leadership on the ground.

MARTIN: They'll be receptive. OK. Robert Ray of the Washington Post. He's been in Alabama reporting. We appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

RAY: Yeah. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ZARIS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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