Judge postpones Paul Manafort trial until next week

Chad Day
Associated Press

Washington – A federal judge on Monday postponed the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort until next week.

The tax and bank fraud trial had been scheduled to start Wednesday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

But U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III pushed the trial back until July 31 to give Manafort’s lawyers more time to review thousands of pages of data and documents turned over by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office in the last several weeks.

The documents come from a firm that handled Manafort’s bookkeeping and the electronic devices of Rick Gates, his longtime business associate. Gates pleaded guilty earlier this year and is expected to testify against Manafort.

Manafort’s trial will be the first arising from Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

The indictment against Manafort doesn’t focus on his work on the Trump campaign or accuse him of being involved in election interference. Instead, it accuses him of funneling the proceeds of Ukrainian political consulting work through offshore accounts and using the funds to pay for a lavish lifestyle.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty and denied all the charges. He faces a separate trial in the District of Columbia, where he was indicted last October.

In addition to pushing the trial back, Ellis on Monday approved and unsealed requests from Mueller’s prosecutors to offer immunity to five witnesses in exchange for their testimony.

Prosecutors had asked for the information to be sealed unless and until the witnesses actually testified. The immunity offers mean prosecutors will not use the witnesses’ statements against them in any criminal case.

Prosecutors also disclosed that they will be presenting a limited amount of evidence regarding Manafort’s connection to the Trump campaign as well as his ties to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Prosecutor Greg Andres told Ellis that Manafort’s position in the Trump campaign is relevant to some of the bank fraud charges because a chairman of one of the banks allowed Manafort to file inaccurate loan information in exchange for a job on the campaign and the promise of a job in the Trump administration.

Andres did not name the bank employee but noted that the Trump administration position never materialized.

Jury selection in the case is set to begin next week, a process Ellis said he would be keeping tight control over.

The judge said he wouldn’t allow either side to ask jurors how they voted or allow the case to get “engulfed” in “irrelevant stuff” that has to do less with Manafort’s guilt or innocence and more to do with “theater.”

“I’m not in the theater business,” Ellis said.