Manafort Trial Delayed, Judge Releases Immunized Witness List
The trial set to begin this week for Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, was delayed until July 31 by a judge who separately granted immunity to five witnesses who said they would have remained silent without the protection.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III on Monday pushed back Manafort’s bank- and tax-fraud case after defense lawyers complained that they didn’t have adequate time to review 120,000 pages of documents they received this month from prosecutors. The judge also agreed to provide immunity from prosecution to James Brennan, Dennis Raico, Cindy Laporta, Donna Duggan and Conor O’Brien.
Both O’Brien and Laporta work for the accounting firm of Kositzka, Wicks and Company, according to the firm’s website. KWC was Manafort’s accounting firm, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Ellis said he would have potential jurors fill out written questionnaires on Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Then he will bring them back on July 31 to question them before the lawyers agree on 12 jurors and four alternates. Ellis warned that he wouldn’t allow the trial to touch on areas that have “little to do with the guilt or innocence” of Manafort but are instead political theatrics.
“I’m not in the theater business,” Ellis said. “You have to be better looking for that.”
In seeking a trial delay, defense attorney Kevin Downing said he needed more time to go through the documents. Many of the documents relate to Rick Gates, Manafort’s right-hand man who pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors. He’s expected to be the star witness for Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“This is the heart of the case,” Downing said. “I would consider these to be very important items for us to look at before the trial.”
Manafort, 69, is accused of making tens of millions of dollars while working for former pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his party, then concealing those earnings and the offshore bank accounts that held them from U.S. authorities. He’s also charged with misleading lenders about his finances to induce them to make $20 million in loans.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to those charges and to a separate Washington indictment accusing him of money laundering, working as an unregistered agent for Ukraine and obstruction of justice.
That case is set for trial in September.
In the past month, prosecutors handed over 40,000 pages from a Gates laptop, 30,000 documents from other Gates devices, and 49,000 pages from NKSFB LLC, a Los Angeles-based business-management firm that handled bookkeeping for Manafort, according to Downing.
Mueller’s office opposed the trial delay. Prosecutor Uzo Asonye said the late handover of documents wouldn’t affect Manafort’s defense because the government had already given Manafort’s lawyers all of the Gates emails. He said the new material involved only photographs and images.
But Downing said he wants to conduct his own review to determine what he might use on cross-examination, a point that seemed to resonate with the judge.
“The fact that you’re not using something doesn’t mean it won’t be usable by the defense,” he told Asonye.
Asonye told the court he believed the bookkeeping evidence had already been seen by the defense while Manafort was represented by prior counsel.
Asked whether that was so, Downing said his team hadn’t gotten the papers from Manafort’s previous law firm, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, and that NKSFB demanded reimbursement for its production.
“We thought we’d get it through discovery, your honor,” Downing said. “It’s a lot cheaper.”
Asonye said the NKSFB evidence was delayed because of questions about whether it involved privileged materials that prosecutors couldn’t review. He said a separate group of prosecutors known as a taint team had reviewed the materials to determine what could be used at the trial. Prosecutors gave that material to Downing’s lawyer as soon as they received it, Asonye said.
In a filing on Monday, the defense lawyers again asked a federal appeals court to free Manafort from jail to work on his case. Manafort’s bail was revoked last month after prosecutors accused him of witness tampering. A previous motion to set him free pending trial was denied.
“The detention order, which impedes Mr. Manafort’s preparation for those trials, rests on legal error and clear factual error. The order should be vacated,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote.
The case is U.S. v. Manafort, 18-cr-83, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria.)
— With assistance by Erik Larson
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