Manafort Can’t Be Prosecuted After Trump Pardon, New York Court Rules

The Manhattan district attorney’s attempt to prosecute former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman was dealt a final blow when New York’s highest court said quietly last week it would not review lower court rulings on the case.

The court’s decision brings to an end the district attorney’s quest to ensure that the campaign chairman, Paul J. Manafort, will face state charges for mortgage fraud and other state felonies, crimes similar to those for which he was convicted in federal court and then pardoned by Mr. Trump.

When the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., a Democrat, first brought charges against Mr. Manafort in March 2019, it was widely understood that he was doing so to make sure that Mr. Manafort would face prosecution even if Mr. Trump decided to pardon him.

At the time, Mr. Manafort was serving a sentence of seven and a half years in a Pennsylvania federal prison after being convicted at a 2018 financial fraud trial by prosecutors working for the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The judge, Justice Maxwell Wiley, said at the time that “the law of double jeopardy in New York State provides a very narrow window for prosecution.”

Mr. Vance’s office has taken action against other associates of Mr. Trump whom the former president has pardoned in federal cases. Last week, The New York Times reported that Manhattan prosecutors had opened an investigation against Stephen K. Bannon, a former White House strategist who was pardoned by Mr. Trump during the president’s final hours in office.

But the double jeopardy defense is unlikely to help Mr. Bannon in the same way it helped Mr. Manafort, because Mr. Bannon had not yet been tried, let alone convicted.

“The basis for the prosecution being improper doesn’t in any way apply to Mr. Bannon as far as I can tell,” Mr. Blanche said.

While the U.S. Constitution bars being tried twice for the same crime, the Supreme Court has long held that there is one exception: Federal and state prosecutions for the same conduct are allowed because the federal government and states are understood to be independent sovereigns. In 2019, the court affirmed that exception.

That year, the state legislature in New York passed a measure that lawmakers argued was necessary in order to check Mr. Trump’s pardon power and to ensure that his associates were not permitted to escape justice. The law, signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in October 2019, allows state prosecutors to pursue charges against individuals who have been granted presidential pardons for similar crimes.

State Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat and former federal prosecutor who sponsored the bill, said that the Manafort case drove home the need for the legislation.

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