“You can file what you want to file. I won’t prejudge it,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said, setting arguments on changing the trial site for Sept. 5, but suggesting that the request was premature.
“This court has heard high-profile cases before. We have been able to find impartial jurors” through questionnaires and routine pretrial vetting of potential jurors. “If it’s not possible, we can talk about it at that time,” Jackson suggested, adding, “Pretrial publicity has been nationwide.”
The maneuvering came as both sides shifted focus to the next legal test for Manafort, who faces prison time after he was convicted last week on eight of 18 tax- and bank-fraud charges brought by the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in Alexandria federal court.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III of Alexandria declared a mistrial on the 10 remaining charges, giving the government until Wednesday to decide whether to retry Manafort.
Manafort lost a request in Virginia to move that trial from Alexandria to Roanoke, also citing publicity and the hurdles to finding an impartial jury.
In the District, Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to all charges, which relate to his political work and alleged attempts to hide income from 2006 to 2017. Prosecutors allege that during that time, he laundered $30 million as a consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
He also is accused of witness tampering.
The two-hour hearing Tuesday mainly covered whether prosecutors could show evidence of Manafort’s alleged “bad acts” to jurors before turning at the end to the more urgent questions about how extensive coverage of his Virginia case might affect seating a D.C. jury.
While delaying opening statements and witness testimony until Sept. 24, Jackson said that jury selection will start Sept. 17, as previously scheduled.
Prosecutors objected to the delay. Manafort previously declined an offer to combine his Virginia case on tax- and bank-fraud charges with the case against him in the District.
Manafort, who is jailed in Alexandria, did not attend the hearing after waiving his right to appear.
But his attorney Richard Westling said, “We finished a trial, like, a week ago. We have been doing our best,” but are reviewing 1,100 proposed new government exhibits, atop the more than 300 admitted in the Virginia trial.
Jackson granted the delay but cautioned that the longer the trial is expected to last, the harder it will be to find eligible jurors.
“The combination of pretrial publicity and length of the trial is going to make it difficult to pick a jury,” she said. “If we were at a point where people thought about the chance that pretrial publicity was an issue, we are at a whole different point now,” the judge said.
A questionnaire given to the jury pool will include questions about whether each person posted anything on social media about Manafort or his criminal case.
Jackson denied a request by the defense team to ask potential jurors if they voted in the 2016 presidential election, saying that it would not reveal bias and that other questions gauge the level of respondents’ political activity and where they get news. Attorneys may push further if jurors say they have views about people involved in the Trump campaign, she said.
Both sides also argued about whether evidence of Manafort’s past acts could be introduced during the next trial.
At Jackson’s prodding after the defense team’s objections, prosecutors agreed to introduce evidence only about Manafort’s alleged manipulation of a Trump Tower condo he bought in New York in 2006 for $3.7 million
to deceive the Internal Revenue Service if the defense team opened the door by attacking his tax preparer.
They withdrew a request to introduce evidence of undisclosed lobbying by Manafort for Saudi Arabia and other countries dating to 1986 — when he was required to resign as a director of the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp. — except for explicit warnings Justice Department officials gave him to avoid specific conduct at issue in his upcoming trial.
Prosecutor Greg D. Andres said the special counsel’s office could seek to admit evidence of loans between entities in Cyprus to show the flow of money for Manafort’s Ukraine consulting work from entities controlled by Ukraine oligarchs at the behest of their government to Manafort-controlled entities, and eventually to the United States.