After being helped to his feet by his lawyers, Manafort walked to the front of the courtroom. He was presented with the charges against him and offered an unemotional plea of “not guilty.”
A photographer had earlier caught Manafort arriving at the courthouse wearing a blue jumpsuit and white sneakers, his hair disheveled. The former top Trump campaign adviser was recently moved to the same federal detention center in Manhattan that houses convicted drug cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán so he could answer the state charges; he had been serving his federal sentence at a facility in Pennsylvania.
Manafort was a key figure in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the election, drawing particular attention for his business dealings with pro-Russian political figures in Ukraine. He was charged and convicted of bank and tax fraud related to that work — first after a federal trial in Virginia, and then, separately, when he pleaded guilty in federal court in D.C.
Prosecutors, though, alleged that Manafort continued to lie to them even after agreeing to cooperate, and political observers wondered whether he might be trying to stay in Trump’s good graces to earn a pardon. Trump has said such a move is not on his mind, but added that he feels “badly” for his former campaign chairman.
In May, a state grand jury in New York indicted Manafort on mortgage fraud charges stemming largely from the same conduct at issue in his federal trials. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said Manafort’s misdeeds “strike at the heart of New York’s sovereign interests, including the integrity of our residential mortgage market.”
Todd Blanche, Manafort’s attorney, told reporters after the hearing that his office intended to ask the indictment against Manafort be dismissed for violating state prohibitions against double jeopardy. Blanche has made a similar argument in correspondence with law enforcement officials.
The charges could be significant because Trump cannot issue a pardon on state offenses.
Attorneys for Manafort hoped to obtain a blanket waiver at the proceeding Thursday for Manafort to decline to attend any pretrial hearings, but — at the state’s request — Judge Maxwell Wiley said he would evaluate each hearing individually. Wiley told Manafort that, should the case go to trial, he had the right to be in the room but would be tried in absentia if necessary.
“My guess is, if the case goes to trial, you’ll be here,” the judge said to Manafort.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 9. Manafort will remain in federal custody, and the warden of the Metropolitan Correctional Center — where he is being held — asked for 30-day notices of his court appearances so he can be made available to the state.
As Manafort exited the courtroom, someone in the audience again yelled at him: “People power, sir.”
Zapotosky reported from Washington.