Manafort foreign agent trial to remain in DC, judge rules
WASHINGTON (AP) — Paul Manafort’s second trial will remain in the District of Columbia, a judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that the former Trump campaign chairman’s attorneys had failed to show that thorough jury questioning and careful instructions couldn’t ensure that both sides could pick an impartial jury in Washington.
Manafort’s attorneys had argued that the trial should be moved to Roanoke, Virginia, because the intensity of publicity in Washington made it impossible for him to receive a fair trial. But Jackson said the request appeared to relate more to concerns about the political affiliation of Washington residents, rather than a unique amount of pretrial publicity.
Jackson’s ruling clears the way for Manafort to be tried later this month on several felony charges related to his lobbying and political consulting work on behalf of Ukrainian political interests. It was the second time Manafort had been denied moving a trial away from the Washington metropolitan area.
Manafort had made a similar unsuccessful request in his bank fraud and tax evasion trial in northern Virginia. A jury there convicted him on eight counts of filing false tax returns, failing to report foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. Jurors deadlocked on 10 other counts.
In ruling against Manafort’s request for a change of venue, Jackson said she could reconsider if they are unable to qualify enough jurors to proceed to jury selection in the case, scheduled to begin Sept. 17.
Jackson’s announced her decision during a hearing in which prosecutors revealed that they are unsure whether Manafort’s longtime deputy and fellow Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates, will testify at trial. But if he does testify, the government asked Jackson to bar the defense from questioning Gates about his cooperation with the ongoing investigation, noting that many aspects of the more than 20 meetings he’s had with prosecutors don’t relate to Manafort’s case.
Jackson also ruled that Manafort’s defense couldn’t introduce evidence about Gates’ extramarital affairs, a topic that came out during his testimony during Manafort’s trial in last month in Virginia.
Gates, who worked directly for Manafort for years, took a plea deal earlier this year and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Manafort’s defense spent a considerable amount of the Virginia trial painting Gates as a liar, philanderer and embezzler as they sought to attack the government’s case.
After the verdict last month, a juror in the case told news outlets that the jury agreed to throw out Gates’ testimony because they found him unreliable. The juror, Paula Duncan, told Fox News that the jury relied largely on the paper evidence presented at trial, which was enough for her to vote to convict Manafort on all charges. The jury ultimately returned a split verdict because one juror held out due to reasonable doubt, she said.
In the Washington case, Manafort is accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, conspiring to launder money and lying to the FBI and Justice Department about the nature of his work. He is also accused of tampering with witnesses in the case.
The charges do not relate to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and jurors are expected to only hear limited references to Manafort’s role in the campaign. Jackson is allowing prosecutors to mention that Manafort was campaign chairman in August 2016 when press reports, including articles by The Associated Press , called attention to his lobbying work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Russian Party of Regions.
Prosecutors say Manafort’s campaign position is relevant to the case because in response to the press coverage, he and Gates developed a false cover story that was later the basis for false statements made to the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, unit.
Jackson has yet to rule on how much jurors can hear about Manafort’s contention that he is the victim of a selective prosecution. Manafort attorney Kevin Downing said Wednesday that his team wants to introduce evidence showing the rarity of FARA prosecutions and to argue that the prosecution was instigated by the special counsel’s office because Manafort led the Trump campaign.
Jackson said she would allow Downing to file additional information about his argument before issuing a ruling, but was inclined to bar such references because they weren’t relevant to the charges against Manafort. And she said it could insert “the politics into the trial that we’re trying to exclude.”
“You can’t exclude the politics,” Downing said. “Paul Manafort is here because he was Trump’s campaign manager.”
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