Paul Manafort pleads not guilty to new charges; trial date set for September
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded not guilty Wednesday to new charges that were brought against him last week by special counsel Robert Mueller.
His trial is scheduled for Sept. 17 at 9:30 a.m. in Washington, D.C.
The five new charges filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia are conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy against the United States, acting as an unregistered of a foreign principal and two counts of false statements.
Mr. Manafort’s court appearance was his first since his longtime business associate, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty Friday. Gates accepted reduced charges in exchange for cooperating with Mr. Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Hours after Gates pleaded guilty, a new round of charges was filed in Virginia accusing Mr. Manafort of filing false tax returns, bank fraud and making false statements. Mr. Manafort will be arraigned on those charges Friday in Virginia and is expected to plead not guilty.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District Court said Mr. Manafort and his defense team face a heavy burden of duplicative work if he faces a trial with overlapping evidence in two courtrooms. Prosecutor Greg Andres said Mr. Manafort had waived his right to have a single trial and that different evidence will be presented in the cases.
“There are no overlaps with respect to the charges,” he told Judge Jackson. “The facts overlap.”
Mr. Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, appeared ready to tackle both cases, indicating he was preparing to file a motion to dismiss the D.C. charges. Judge Jackson scheduled March 14 as the due date for the motion and gave the prosecutors until May 14 to reply to respond.
Judge Jackson issued a stern warning to Mr. Manafort about a statement he issued to the media maintaining his innocence after Gates pleaded guilty. She said the statement violated a court order barring both parties from speaking to the press, but she declined to take any action. In the statement, Mr. Manafort said Gates pleaded guilty “for reasons yet to surface.”
“The order, under no objection, does not just apply to Mr. Downing, but it also applies to you,” she told Mr. Manafort and threatened sanctions if he releases another statement.
Mr. Downing said defense counsel did not interpret the order as a blanket gag order and will be filing a motion challenging the judge’s interpretation of a Supreme Court opinion that was the basis for her order. Judge Jackson shot back that she had asked for input before issuing the order, but did not receive any from the defense. She did promise to read any objection Mr. Downing files to her order.
Mr. Manafort and Gates were first indicted in October on charges of conspiracy and money laundering. Both had pleaded not guilty to those charges, but Gates changed his plea last week after superseding charges were filed against the two.
Prosecutors allege Mr. Manafort, with the help of Gates, laundered millions of dollars he collected by acting as a political consultant for the Ukrainian government. Mr. Manafort is accused of funneling tens of millions of dollars he earned from this Ukraine work to the United States without paying taxes on the income. He used the money to purchase real estate, luxury cars, expensive suits, artwork and renovate his home, according to prosecutors.
In total, Mr. Manafort and Gates laundered more than $40 million, prosecutors contend.
Mr. Manafort’s alleged actions are not connected with the Trump campaign or allegations that the president colluded with Russia. However, a late September trial date could create a political headache for Mr. Trump and his Republican allies. Mr. Manafort is the highest-ranking Trump campaign official to face charges from Mr. Mueller’s Russia investigation, and a trial will air allegations just before the 2018 mid-term elections.
Mr. Trump has called the investigation a “witch hunt.”
All told, Mr. Mueller has charged 19 people, including 13 Russians and three Russia internet agencies, in his probe.