The federal judge overseeing Paul Manafort’s case in D.C. gave the attorneys a few extra days to prepare for next month’s trial by scheduling the start of opening arguments for September 24. Jury selection will still begin on September 17, as previously scheduled.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said at a hearing Tuesday that the jury selection will likely take a few days, so how much extra time the attorneys have to prepare will depend on how efficiently they move through jury questioning. She was already planning to not hold proceedings on September 19 in observance of Yom Kippur.
The defense had asked for the trial to be pushed back by a week, while special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, citing scheduling issues with their witness, had argued in favor of staying with the original start date.
The potential jurors for Manafort’s trial had already been pre-cleared on the basis of their availability for the original date and the expected length of the proceedings, which made Jackson reluctant to grant the full delay Manafort’s attorneys were seeking.
Also during Tuesday’s hearing, Manafort attorney Richard Westling indicated that the defense would be filing a request to change venue — meaning to move the trial to somewhere other than D.C. The Manafort team had made a similar proposal unsuccessfully in Manafort’s previous trial in Alexandria, Virginia.
Asked by the judge where he would like to move the trial, given the national attention to the case, Westling admitted that “maybe there is no place” less affected by the intense media coverage. He said that he wanted to create a record of making the request.
Jackson said she would consider the request, while noting that the goal of the jury questionnaire is to root out any potential bias. If that’s not possible by the end of the selection process, she said, there are actions she can take at that point.
Manafort is facing charges that include money laundering, witness tampering and failure to disclose his foreign lobbying. He has pleaded not guilty. In the Virginia trial, where he was charged with bank fraud and tax fraud, the jury last week returned guilty verdicts for eight of the counts and were deadlocked for ten of the others.
Tuesday’s hearing also dealt with changes sought to the written jury questionnaire. The judge declined Manafort’s request to ask a question about whether the potential jurors voted in 2016, but the questionnaire will include other questions about their political involvement, as well as one noting that individuals or evidence in the trial may relate to the Trump campaign. The judge also added a question asking potential jurors whether they have posted on social media about the case or about Manafort.