Manafort Trial Briefly Delayed After Judge’s Private Discussions With Attorneys

Photo by Getty Images/ SHAWN THEW

ALEXANDRIA, VA — U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis on Friday morning delayed the Paul Manafort trial until 1:45 p.m. ET that afternoon, after a morning he spent in a series of private discussions with both parties’ attorneys at his bench, as well as an extended recess.

He did not indicate what exactly the issue was when he announced the brief delay. However, he did call the jury in and had them take roll. He also repeatedly urged the jurors to keep an open mind about the trial and not to discuss it with anyone.

He gives similar instructions at every day’s proceedings, but on Friday morning he said he needed to “underscore” those rules while thanking the jurors for their “continued adherence” to them.

Before proceedings in the Manafort trial began Friday morning, the judge dealt with two other matters, a sentencing and a sealed case. When Ellis came back after a brief recess, he had two separate bench conferences with attorneys from both sides of the Manafort case.

The first bench conference was brief, and Ellis concluded it by calling a five-minute recess. During that time Manafort stood in a huddle with his entire defense team. It’s unclear what they were talking about, but it appeared to be a serious discussion.

When Ellis returned from the brief recess, he again called another bench conference, this one lasting about 10 minutes, longer than previous bench conferences have lasted in this trial. During the second bench conference, Ellis called up the court security officer, which was also unusual.

Ellis called yet another recess at 10:15 a.m. and said it would last about 15 minutes, but he was away from the courtroom for close to an hour. During this time, the entire legal team arguing this trial for special counsel Robert Mueller and most of the members of the defense team were out of the room, while Manafort waited with two of his lawyers.

When Ellis came back a few minutes past 11 a.m., he brought in the jury and told them that lawyers would “continue with the evidence in the afternoon.” He then told the jury not to discuss the case and mentioned that he sometimes has to deal with matters unrelated to the Manafort trial, making it unclear whether the delay was due to an issue related to the Manafort trial or another matter entirely.

“I assure you this is all necessary,” Ellis said.

Ellis has two court filings on his docket for the case, at least publicly, remained unresolved. One is a request filed by the prosecutors that the judge address for the jury a remark he made in the proceedings Thursday. He had told the prosecutors, while they were questioning an employee at bank were Manafort unsuccessfully sought a loan, that they “might want to spend time on a loan that was granted.” Prosecutors said Ellis’ comment “misrepresents the law” on the bank fraud charges and want him to correct the record.

They made a similar request for a comment Ellis made on Wednesday, which Ellis dealt with promptly with a mea culpa on Thursday.

The second issue that Ellis has yet to announce a ruling on is prosecutors’ request to ask a witness additional questions about their charge that Manafort failed to file with the U.S. Treasury foreign bank reports for his overseas accounts. Manafort’s attorneys filed their response to the request on Friday, and it did not appear on the docket until after Ellis had already started his morning proceedings. Ellis has typically, however, dealt with the attorneys’ fights over evidence in open court, as long as the jury isn’t present, which they were not for most of Friday morning.

Update, 4:53 p.m.: When the trial reconvened Friday afternoon, Judge Ellis gave no more hints about what issue he and the attorneys had been dealing with in the morning. The lawyers for both parties entered the court room at around 1:30 p.m., and the public and the press were allowed in a few minutes later.

Only two of the defense lawyers — the same two who mostly were not involved in the morning bench discussions — were in the courtroom, sitting with Manafort. It was not clear to TPM whether the prosecutors and the other defense attorneys were in chambers with the judge.

Regardless, Ellis did not emerge from his chambers to reconvene the trial until about 2:20 p.m. A court security guard left Ellis’ chambers a little after 2:00 p.m. and went to the jury room, only to travel back from the jury room to the chambers five minutes later.

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