Paul Manafort’s trial will stretch into a fourth week, as jurors headed home Friday without reaching a verdict for the second straight day and the judge overseeing the case alluded to "threats" the jury may be receiving.
“I had no idea this case would incite this emotion,” U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III said in an open court hearing, responding to a motion from seven news organizations, including POLITICO, seeking access to sealed materials related to the trial that would have publicly identified the jurors.
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Ellis denied the motion, telling the courtroom that jurors were "scared” and “afraid.” As a result, Ellis said, he didn’t “feel right” releasing the names of the 12-person jury.
But Manafort’s team left court on Friday pleased that deliberations would spill into a third day, with Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing telling reporters it favored his client.
Manafort is facing 18 counts of bank and tax fraud in the first case special counsel Robert Mueller has brought to trial as part of his wide-ranging probe of 2016 Russian election interference.
Jury deliberations are scheduled to resume Monday at 9:30 a.m.
Here comes Trump
Shortly after the jurors resumed reviewing the evidence Friday morning, Trump weighed in on his former campaign chairman’s case from the White House.
"I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad," Trump said in response to reporters’ questions as he departed for fundraising events on Long Island.
As he has before, the president downplayed the veteran GOP lobbyist-consultant’s role in his campaign from late March 2016 to mid-August of that year.
"He worked for me for a very short period of time," Trump said, adding: "He happens to be a very good person."
Asked whether he might pardon the 69-year old Manafort — who is facing the prospect of decades in prison on bank- and tax-fraud charges — the president did not respond directly. "I don’t talk about that. I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort," Trump said.
Downing, Manafort’s attorney, welcomed Trump’s comments.
“Mr. Manafort appreciates the support of President Trump,” the defense attorney told reporters outside the courthouse Friday afternoon.
Ellis has repeatedly instructed the jurors to avoid reading, seeing or hearing media coverage of the trial. He again asked Friday morning for them to confirm that they followed his direction, and he sent them home for the weekend with the same advice — including to avoid discussing the matter with anyone. "There will be the usual temptations. Stop them," the judge said. It’s unclear whether Trump’s comments will pierce that veil.
The jury appeared to break for lunch around 12:30 p.m. Friday after about three hours of deliberations. A couple of jurors were spotted smoking near the courthouse before heading toward several local chain eateries.
More than 30 reporters kept vigil during the day inside Ellis’ empty courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, under the watch of a court security officer. They read newspapers, scoured legal documents and whispered among themselves.
Trial ‘might end soon’
After jurors left the courtroom to deliberate Friday morning, Ellis acknowledged the trial “might end soon" and prepared the media for the inevitable frenzy a verdict will bring.
Ellis asked reporters who plan to race out of the building mid-verdict to deliver the news — no cameras, cellphones or laptops are allowed for instantaneous reporting — work from a sixth-floor overflow room.
“Here, I’d prefer we maintain some decorum as we go through the entire rather lengthy jury form,” Ellis said, signaling that he’d keep the doors closed in the ninth-floor courtroom where the verdict will be read aloud.
Ellis has been irked by the abrupt comings and goings of reporters from the packed courtroom.
Ellis reading the news
During his remarks Friday morning, Ellis acknowledged that his behavior had generated media scrutiny.
A 78-year old Ronald Reagan appointee, Ellis has frequently clashed with Mueller’s prosecutors in a bid to keep the trial moving at a rapid clip — a storyline news outlets have been highlighting.
“I’m no stranger to criticism," Ellis said. "This case has brought it to a new level."
Earlier in the case, the judge maintained that he wasn’t tracking press coverage of the trial. But in recent days, Ellis has made clear he’s aware of reports that he gave a lot of grief to prosecutors during the trial.
“A thirsty press is essential to a free country,” he said.
Manafort was in the courtroom Friday for all three sessions — including the judge’s discussion of the media’s request for greater access.
The veteran political consultant, who spends his nights at the nearby Alexandria Detention Center, looked ruddy and emotional as he entered the court Thursday. However, he appeared to be in good spirits Friday, flashing a smile to his wife as he entered the courtroom and blowing her a kiss as he left.
Manafort’s wife, Kathleen, joined her husband’s legal team, which has camped out at the Westin Alexandria hotel restaurant across the street from the courthouse. One of the defendant’s attorneys, Thomas Zehnle, shuffled a deck of cards before starting up a poker game with his fellow lawyers.
Didi Martinez and Stephanie Murray contributed to this report.
Published at Sat, 18 Aug 2018 04:13:36 +0000