Reporter's notebook

Judge Indicates That Most Of Private Manafort Trial Conversations Will Be Unsealed

TPM Illustration. Photo by Getty Images/The Washington Post
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August 20, 2018 10:14 am

At the end of the second week and continuing into the third week of Paul Manafort’s financial crimes trial, the parties spent hours discussing a matter that remains under seal. There’s been quite a bit of speculation about the topic of these private discussions. Unless the parties object, we might find out what those conversations were about. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis indicated Monday morning that he would be releasing most of the conversations he had with the attorneys at the Manafort trial that remain under seal at the moment.

Media companies had filed a request to unseal the discussions, usually occurring at Ellis’ bench, that occurred over the course of the trial, where the jury remains in deliberations.

Ellis said Monday that the jurors’ names, which the news outlets also requested, would remain under seal, as would a bench conference that prosecutors had previously asked the judge to keep under seal, because it dealt with the details of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He asked the two parties to look over transcriptions they’ve received, which include the sealed discussions, and to confer on whether any other parts of those conversations should remain out of the public’s view.

What they request to remain under seal “should be very, very small proportion of the whole” of the transcript currently under seal, Ellis said.

Later on Monday morning, the parties returned to the courtroom, presumably with follow up questions about the unsealing of the bench discussion. Much of that conversation took place at the bench and was inaudible to reporters in the courtroom. However, the judge signaled that it would be among the conversations eventually unsealed and that he planned to unseal the bench discussions at the end of the trial.

Many of the bench conferences  have already been publicly available in transcripts ordered by the media. However, beginning during the second week of trial, the parties spent hours discussing one matter. They had also, apparently, filed sealed court documents on this matter before these discussions. What it is remains unknown to the public.

Ellis’ remarks Monday came after the judge convened the jury, took the roll and let them leave to continue their deliberations, which entered day three on Monday.

Manafort’s legal team, his wife and most of the prosecutors were present Monday morning in the court room. Ellis did, however, note the absence of Greg Andres, a member of Mueller’s team, and asked if he was OK, as one of his own law clerks was ill.

“He’s fine, your honor,” prosecutor Uzo Asonye said.

Caitlin MacNeal contributed reporting.

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