Yesterday, Paul Manafort had four years left to serve on his seven-years-plus sentence in federal prison. Today, he’s back at home to serve his sentence for multiple counts of fraud and tax evasion, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Manafort left federal prison this morning over concerns that his pre-existing conditions make him particularly vulnerable to a major infection by the coronavirus.
Number of confirmed cases at FCI Loretto? Zero:
President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been released from prison to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement because of concerns over the novel coronavirus, two sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.
Manafort was released from FCI Loretto in central Pennsylvania early Wednesday morning, the two sources said.
An attorney for Manafort confirmed he had been released to home confinement but declined to comment further. The Bureau of Prisons also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Manafort’s hardly alone in this exodus. The Bureau of Prisons has released 2500 other inmates to home confinement over the last two months, in compliance with Attorney General William Barr’s order on March 26th to reduce prison populations to avoid rapid transmission of COVID-19. That didn’t mean that the BoP wasn’t cognizant of how releasing Manafort would look, which is why they took their opportunity before most people had gotten out of bed this morning:
Manafort, who was serving a four-year sentence for fraud and tax evasion related to his shady consulting work in Ukraine, left a federal prison in central Pennsylvania before dawn on Wednesday and was headed home to northern Virginia.
“They staged it so it was under cover of darkness,” Todd Blanche, a lawyer for Manafort, told the Daily News. “I have spoken with him and he is good.”
There have been no COVID-19 cases reported yet at the prison where Manafort was housed in Loretto, Pennsylvania, but jails and prisons have become pandemic hot spots across the nation.
David Axelrod smells something fishy about this:
So the Barr-led Bureau of Prisons frees Manafort to serve the REMAINING FOUR YEARS of his sentence at home despite the facts that there have been no COVID-19 cases at the prison where he was serving and he did not meet several of the bureau’s standards for COVID release.
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) May 13, 2020
Complicating the picture as well is the status of Michael Cohen, who had his release rescinded without any explanation almost two weeks ago. Cynics might note that Cohen repeatedly offered testimony about Trump, which turned out not to be much anyway, while Manafort kept his mouth shut. And it came not long after Trump attorney Charles Harder sent Cohen a letter trying to warn him off from writing a tell-all memoir:
On Thursday, Charles Harder, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, sent Cohen a letter warning him that he would be at legal risk if he wrote a book about his time working for Trump, according to several people.
Harder did not immediately return a request for comment from CNBC.
The letter came 11 days after The Daily Beast reported that Cohen had been “writing an explosive tell-all book about his stint” as Trump’s lawyer “and plans on releasing it before the election.”
“The actor and comedian Tom Arnold, who has been in regular contact with Cohen while he has been in prison, says Cohen told him the book would pull no punches,” The Daily Beast reported.
That disparity is certainly curious, especially since Manafort’s crimes were more extensive and had been catalogued by the Department of Justice for years before the 2016 election. Still, not all of Trump’s critics disapproved. Joe Scarborough gave Manafort’s release a thumbs-up, conditional on the BoP applying this idea much more widely:
Perhaps this might prompt a long discussion about the necessity of prison confinement for non-violent perpetrators. Home confinement with prison as the alternative for violations would lift significant financial burdens on state and federal budgets without much risk to public safety. That would include Cohen and Manafort, as well as thousands if not hundreds of thousands of others, who could then pay for their own upkeep rather than stick taxpayers with the bill.
Until then, though, Manafort seems to have been … fortunate in the BoP lottery.