Manafort, President Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, appeared in court for the first time since his June incarceration. The case against him was brought by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Lawyers on both sides Monday sought to limit the evidence presented at the Virginia trial. Prosecutor Greg Andres said the special counsel planned to be “discreet” in raising related charges Manafort faces in District federal court, the work he did in Ukraine that is at the center of both cases, and the president himself.
“I don’t anticipate the word ‘Russia’ will be uttered by a government witness,” Andres said.
When defense attorneys questioned the inclusion of photographs of Ukrainian oligarchs, he promised, “There will be no pictures of scantily clad women.”
Ellis noted that such evidence could be prejudicial, given “the antipathy towards Russia” and that “most Americans can’t distinguish between Ukraine and Russia.”
But Andres said Manafort’s role in the campaign was essential to one bank fraud count, because a lender “went along with the fraud so he could get a job.”
Andres said that the banker “did know information presented was not accurate” but that he sought an “appointment . . . from Mr. Manafort.”
According to court filings, Manafort obtained $16 million in loans from a “Lender D,” identified in other court documents as Federal Savings Bank. The bank’s chairman, Stephen Calk, had an advisory role in the Trump campaign. Calk could not immediately be reached for comment.
Asked whether Calk’s purported knowledge made the fraud count moot, Andres replied that “the fraud was on the bank and not just the individual.”
Ellis approved the mention of Trump in that limited fashion.
In a dispute regarding what jurors would learn of the work Manafort did for then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Ellis said he would rule after seeing relevant exhibits.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, pledged that they would not argue Manafort was “selectively and vindictively” prosecuted. But they said they would like to reserve the ability to question the motives of the special counsel.
“This court has commented in open court and in filings on the motives of the prosecution,” defense attorney Thomas Zehnle said. Ellis has repeatedly said that he believes Manafort is being prosecuted only in hopes that he will offer information on Trump.
“Even though I’ve said what I think the motive is, doesn’t mean it’s admissible at trial,” Ellis said. But he said if defense attorneys have a reason to raise motive, they can make an argument at the bench during the trial “in living color.”
The two sides will on Tuesday debate a questionnaire that will be given to potential jurors.
Manafort would like Ellis, the judge, to ask jurors where they get their news, the extent of their involvement in politics and whether they voted in the 2016 election. The government is interested in whether jurors have strong feelings about the Internal Revenue Service and tax laws, the special counsel, and Manafort himself.
Ellis also approved and unsealed motions to compel five government witnesses to testify: James Brennan, Conor O’Brien, Donna Duggan, Cindy Laporta and Dennis Raico. Laporta’s accounting firm confirmed that Manafort was once a client and that current or former employees may testify.
Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.