President Trump weighed in with a public defense of Paul Manafort on Friday as a jury concluded its second day of deliberations to decide whether the president’s former campaign chairman is guilty of tax and bank fraud.
Jurors signaled Friday afternoon they were unlikely to reach a verdict before the day ended and asked if they could leave the courthouse at 5 p.m. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III agreed, and the panel is scheduled to resume deliberations Monday morning.
At the White House, Trump declined to answer a question about a possible pardon for Manafort, but spoke out against special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose office brought charges against the 69-year-old political strategist. It’s the first trial to emerge from Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, although the charges against Manafort center on his personal finances.
“I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad. When you look at what’s going on, I think it’s a very sad day for our country,” Trump said, adding that Manafort “happens to be a very good person, I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”
Trump spoke shortly after the jury in nearby Alexandria began its second day of deliberations. Manafort faces 18 charges of tax and bank fraud. Prosecutors say he hid millions of dollars from the Internal Revenue Service in overseas bank accounts and then lied to banks to obtain multimillion-dollar loans.
As the panel deliberated, Ellis disclosed that he had received threats and is being guarded by deputy U.S. marshals.
“They go where I go,” the judge said. “I don’t even go to the hotel alone; I don’t give the name of the hotel.” The judge lives in Charlottesville but stays at a hotel on the weekdays when he works out of the Alexandria courthouse. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshals Service did not immediately comment.
Ellis made the surprising statement during a hearing at which a consortium of media organizations pressed for the release of jurors’ names, along with documents sealed during the trial. The judge rejected the request for juror information, citing security concerns.
There have been specific threats, Ellis said, although he declined to provide details. He said that if jurors were identified, they would be threatened as well and that for their “peace and safety,” he would not release their names.
“I had no idea this case would excite these emotions, I can tell you frankly,” the judge said.
Ellis was more accommodating on another request made by the news media. He said some of the sealed material involved
“the court’s administration of the jury in this case” and would be made available when the trial ends.
One bench conference would remain sealed, Ellis said, “because I don’t want to interfere with any ongoing investigation.”
A media coalition including The Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN and BuzzFeed filed motions requesting that sealed discussions and records from the trial be made public. The group also asked for the names and addresses of jurors and alternates.
In making the request, the media organizations said the information is public under the First Amendment and common law, and would “aid the public’s understanding of this important case.”
Earlier in the day, Ellis said he was open to scrutiny. “A thirsty press is essential to a free country,” he said.
On Thursday, as the jury of six women and six men neared the end of its first day of deliberations, they sent a note to the judge asking for technical answers to legal issues raised by Manafort’s lawyers.
The jurors’ questions suggest they are quickly diving into the weeds of the sometimes complex tax laws at issue in the case. Two of the questions sought definitions of laws or technical terms. They also asked the judge to define “reasonable doubt.”
Manafort faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted of the more serious charges against him. He also faces a second trial next month in Washington on charges he failed to register as a lobbyist for the Ukraine government, and conspired to tamper with witnesses in that case.