Judge Rules Manafort Foreign Agent Trial to Remain in DC

Paul Manafort’s second trial will remain in the District of Columbia, a judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said 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 September 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. 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.

— 05/09/2018

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