The verdict in the Paul Manafort trial came through loud and clear Tuesday — guilty of eight crimes — but a day later, legal analysts were still trying to figure out exactly what it meant.
One juror told Fox News Wednesday night that a lone holdout stopped the panel from convicting the former Trump campaign chairman of all 18 charges he faced. But she said that holdout was motivated simply by “reasonable doubt” and did not detail why she was swayed on some counts but not others.
“A jury is a black box. People spend their lives trying to anticipate jury verdicts, but they are endlessly surprised,” said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers.
Legal analysts said Manafort’s eight-count conviction amounts to a win for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, even while it raises additional questions. Why, for example, did jurors convict Manafort of defrauding two banks — the Banc of California for a $1 million loan and Citizens Bank for a $3.4 million loan — but not of conspiring to commit those crimes?
That could mean at least some jurors felt Manafort acted alone, the analysts said, though such an interpretation is difficult to resolve with the testimony of Manafort’s former right-hand man, Rick Gates, who admitted to being part of a conspiracy.
Jurors also did not convict Manafort on three of the four charges of failing to report a foreign bank account.
Patrick Cotter, a white-collar defense lawyer not involved with the case, said the panel reached a classic compromise verdict, which lacked internal logic but may reflect personality differences in the jury room.
“I don’t think anyone who wasn’t in that room can know for sure,” Cotter said. “But I think what happened at the trial is, the judge, for whatever reason, took repeated steps which intentionally or unintentionally completely reinforced the defense theory. He continually sent the message that the government was overdoing it, and I think that got through to at least one juror.”
Cotter, who has been critical of U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III’s interruptions during trial testimony, said he botched the verdict as well.
“I was stunned at how fast the judge grabbed at this hung jury,’’ he said.
At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the jury indicated for the first time it was stuck on at least one count. By 4:20 p.m., the judge had accepted a partial verdict and declared a mistrial on the undecided charges.
It is far more commonplace for a judge, after receiving a note describing a split jury, to issue what is sometimes called a “dynamite charge,” aimed at urging jurors to find unanimity. Typically, judges will give a general admonition to a split jury to keep trying to reach a consensus. If that fails, judges will deliver the dynamite charge. Judges often spread out those efforts over more than one day to give jurors a chance to sleep on the issue and possibly resolve their differences.
In the Manafort trial, within about five hours of the first note saying the panel was deadlocked, Ellis made clear his intention to declare a mistrial on 10 charges.
“That is not what happens in federal court. You do not let them go after only a day,” Cotter said. “I can’t understand why any experienced jurist would do that — what his motive in doing that was — but it was bizarre.”
The special counsel’s office could seek to retry Manafort on the unresolved charges; the judge gave prosecutors until Aug. 29 to inform him whether they would do so or move to dismiss those charges. A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to say Wednesday what prosecutors might do.
After the verdict, Manafort returned to the same Alexandria, Va., jail where he has been held for more than a month — though he would have done so even if acquitted of all charges because his detention was ordered in a separate case in Washington. He faces a trial there next month, and while legal analysts said that might renew the pressure on him to reach a plea deal to resolve those charges, there were no outward signs his team was negotiating with prosecutors.
“Paul Manafort still has just as much information as he ever had,” said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney who observed much of the trial. “I still think that is an intriguing possibility.”
Jacob Frenkel, a lawyer at Dickinson Wright, said he doubts Manafort would engage in plea talks because his posture so far has been to fight aggressively.
While cooperation by Manafort now could persuade prosecutors to urge leniency at his sentencing and drop the charges in Washington, he would probably still have to stomach significantly more prison time than the sentence he could have negotiated before he forced a trial, legal analysts said.
Even some in law enforcement have privately speculated that Manafort is confident of a pardon from President Trump, and that is why he has been so unwilling to deal with the special counsel’s team.
Trump praised Manafort on Wednesday, comparing him favorably to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who within minutes of the Manafort verdict in Virginia was pleading guilty to eight unrelated crimes in New York.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” Trump tweeted. “ ‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ - make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”
This story was updated to more fully explain how judges urge jurors to reach unanimous verdicts.