President Trump’s former campaign manager pleaded not guilty to tax and fraud charges in federal court in Virginia on Thursday as he appeared before a judge in the second criminal case brought against him by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Manafort also pleaded not guilty last week in a related case in Washington, D.C., where he is set to go to trial on Sept. 17. Manafort lives in Virginia and was indicted there in February.
Ellis called the Virginia case “complex” but noted that it “doesn’t have anything to do with the Russians or Russian interference in the election.”
Defense attorney Kevin Downing responded that he planned to file motions soon making that very point and arguing that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has no authority to bring these charges.
Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said in court that the special counsel’s office has already turned over all relevant documents to Manafort’s attorneys and was ready to go to trial soon.
“I don’t think it’s complicated,” Weissman said of the case.
Downing disagreed, pointing to the numerous offshore accounts and business interests involved.
“Having had the benefit of trying criminal tax cases for 15 years, I think it is complicated,” he said. He had hoped for the trial to be in November, he said, after Manafort faces a jury in the District.
Manafort’s former business partner, Rick Gates, has pleaded guilty in the District to conspiracy and lying to the FBI. At the request of prosecutors, charges have been dropped against Gates in Virginia, although they could be resurrected should he fail to live up to a plea agreement, which requires him to offer information on any matters Mueller deems relevant.
Both indictments accuse Manafort of hiding the work he did for and the money he made from a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
In Washington, Manafort faces counts of conspiracy to launder more than $30 million, making false statements, failing to follow lobbying disclosure laws and working as an unregistered foreign agent.
In Virginia, he is accused of hiding foreign bank accounts, falsifying his income taxes and failing to report foreign bank accounts.
Manafort also faces bank fraud charges in Virginia not directly related to his work in Ukraine. After his business there dried up, according to prosecutors, Manafort fraudulently secured more than $20 million in loans in part by using his real estate as collateral.
Prosecutors had offered to combine the indictments in D.C., but Manafort refused to do so. Downing suggested Thursday that Manafort would like to face all the charges in Virginia.
“We’re trying,” Downing said, to move tax conspiracy charges from the District to Virginia.
Downing declined to comment after court, saying he had already “had my three minutes.”
The attorney has been rebuked by the judge overseeing the D.C. trial for speaking out on Manafort’s behalf despite a gag order she issued.
Manafort also said nothing to a group of reporters outside the courthouse, holding his wife’s arm as they hurried to a waiting SUV.
Also waiting was Bill Christeson of Kensington, Md., who said he has followed Manafort to several court appearances and has been hoping to see the longtime lobbyist prosecuted for decades.
“Show us your bracelet!” Christeson shouted before throwing a Russian flag at Manafort and calling him a “traitor.”
Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni did put out a statement shortly after the indictment was announced.
“Mr. Manafort is confident that he will be acquitted and violations of his constitutional rights will be remedied,” the statement said.
If convicted of bank fraud in Virginia, Manafort faces up to 270 years in prison, but prosecutors say federal sentencing guidelines call for much less time: four to five years. He faces up to 15 years on the charges of filing false tax returns and up to 20 years on the charges of failing to report foreign bank accounts. Guidelines call for about eight to 10 years.
Separately on Thursday, an April 4 hearing was scheduled before a federal judge in Washington in Manafort’s lawsuit challenging Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, which the government has moved to dismiss. That suit is before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who also is overseeing Manafort’s criminal case in the District.
Manafort is already on home confinement and under GPS monitoring in the District. But Downing told Ellis that his client is putting together a $10 million bond package that may allow him freedom until trial.
The current restrictions, Downing said, are “excessive” and “incredibly onerous.”
Ellis, a senior judge, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987.
Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.