Judge Orders Witnesses Granted Immunity To Testify At Manafort Trial

on April 19, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – With the criminal trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort just two days away, the judge in the case ordered the testimony of five witnesses granted immunity by special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis at a hearing Monday morning said he would unseal the documents that would reveal the identities of the immunized witnesses.

Ellis also heard arguments over Manafort’s request to delay Wednesday’s start of the trial. He said he would issue a ruling from the bench on the continuance as early as this afternoon when the hearing resumes after a short recess.

The judge had already denied Manafort’s request to move the trial to Roanoke, Virginia, to escape the widespread publicity about the case in the metro Washington area.

In the 30-minute hearing, Kevin Downing, an attorney for Manafort, argued that this team needed more time to review 120,000 pages of documents they had received in document production in the last few weeks, some as recently as last Friday.

Forty-nine thousand pages of those documents were of financial records kept by Manafort’s bookkeeping company, NKSFB, which were produced for the defense team on July 6.

The attorney representing Mueller’s team, Uzo Asonye, said that prosecutors had been under the impression that Manafort was already in possession of the financial records, and that the prosecutors had included them in the production out of an “abundance of caution.”

Asonye said that last summer, Manafort’s attorneys at the time had sorted through the financial records for documents covered by attorney-client privilege.

Downing, who took over Manafort’s defense in September 2017, revealed that Manafort’s previous law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering had not turned over the records to the new defense team. He also said that the bookkeeping company refused to give him the records unless Manafort reimbursed the company for the subpoena production, which Manafort did not do.

“Go to court and get the documents,” Ellis scolded Downing. “They belong to your client.”

“We thought we’d get them in discovery, your honor,” Downing responded. “It’s a lot cheaper.”

Tens of thousands of pages of discovery materials that Downing pointed to in requesting a delay in the trial were from devices owned by Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime business deputy who pleaded guilty this spring and is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

Asonye said those materials were images from Gates’ devices and were not among the items on the government’s exhibit list. Downing said that they expected Gates to be a witness and thus the “heart” of the case, so they were entitled time to review all of the materials from his devices.

Manafort faces bank fraud and tax fraud charges related to his consulting work in the Ukraine for then-President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian Party of Regions. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to these charges and related charges in DC.

Monday’s hearing was the first time that Manafort has been seen publicly since he was thrown in jail in mid-June by the judge in the D.C. case for alleged witness tampering. He wore a forest green jumpsuit with a rumpled collar. The gray roots of his hair were visible, but his hair  was tidier and his shave cleaner since the mug shot taken of him earlier this month, when he moved to a jail closer to the Alexandria courthouse.

Manafort’s trial is the first arising from special counsel Robert Mueller’s sprawling investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, which has yielded dozens of indictments and five guilty pleas.

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