Another trial looms for Paul Manafort
Alexandria, Va. – As jurors weigh Paul Manafort’s fate in a sprawling financial fraud case, the former Trump campaign chairman still has another trial looming in the nation’s capital – and prosecutors there have a whole new set of charges and a huge volume of evidence.
The trial now underway in Alexandria, Virginia, is the first case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller to go to trial. The jury will return Monday to begin a third day of deliberations on 18 counts, including tax and bank fraud and failure to disclose foreign bank accounts.
In the District of Columbia, Manafort is scheduled to go on trial in September on charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States, failing to register as a foreign agent, money laundering, witness tampering and making false statements.
Neither case involves allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination by the Trump campaign, which are at the heart of Mueller’s larger investigation. But President Donald Trump has expressed a keen interest in Manafort’s fate as he seeks to publicly undermine Mueller’s probe.
The charges in D.C. could result in an even lengthier sentence than what Manafort faces in Virginia. In a status report filed back in February, prosecutors did a preliminary calculation of how federal sentencing guidelines would apply to Manafort if convicted on all charges. In Virginia, they calculated a sentence of roughly eight to 10 years on the tax fraud charges plus an additional four to five years on the bank fraud. In the District, they calculated a guidelines range of 15 to 20 years, and that was before prosecutors brought the witness tampering charge.
Those guidelines are only rough estimates and will be officially calculated by a probation officer before sentencing. And sentencing guidelines are not binding on the judge.
The fact that Manafort faces a second trial is entirely of his own choosing. Prosecutors preferred to bring all the charges in the District of Columbia, where their investigation is based and where all other defendants have been charged. But prosecutors lacked venue to bring the tax and bank-fraud charges against Manafort anywhere but Virginia, where Manafort owns a home.
Prosecutors requested that Manafort waive his venue rights so all charges could be brought in D.C., but he refused.
In some ways, the decision to face some charges in Virginia appears to have paid off for Manafort.
Judge T.S. Ellis III has expressed skeptical opinions about the government’s case from the outset. In a pretrial hearing, he speculated that prosecutors only decided to bring charges against Manafort to pressure him to “sing” against Trump. He also questioned the fairness of a special counsel law that has allowed Mueller to commit millions of taxpayer dollars to his investigation.
During the trial, prosecutors have been frustrated by comments Ellis has made in front of the jury about the evidence and his frequent exhortations to move the three-week trial along at a quicker pace.
Despite those frustrations, prosecutors were able to introduce hundreds of documents, including emails from Manafort himself seeming to acknowledge some of the financial misdeeds prosecutors say are at the heart of the case.
In the District, meanwhile, Manafort will face a judge who has already seen fit to put him in jail ahead of trial. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who will oversee the criminal trial in Washington, ordered Manafort jailed because of concerns about his alleged efforts to contact two witnesses. Prosecutors filed witness tampering charges against him in June.
Initially Manafort was confined to a “VIP” jail in Warsaw, Virginia., where his cell had a private bathroom and he had phone and computer access. But after Manafort’s lawyers complained about lengthy 100-mile trips to meet with him, Ellis transferred him to a stricter holding facility in Alexandria. Once a familiarly dapper figure in political circles, known for jet-black dyed hair and a tanned complexion, Manafort is now gaunter and grayer.
Officials have not said whether Manafort would be transferred to a jail in the Washington area in advance of the September trial.
In the D.C. trial, Manafort may face an even taller stack of evidence. In a court filing Thursday, Manafort’s defense lawyer, Kevin Downing, said the special counsel’s office has sent him “well over 1,000 proposed exhibits – most of which have not been a part of the trial before Judge Ellis,” for review ahead of the September trial in the District.
Associated Press writer Stephen Braun contributed to this report.