Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is passing up his chance to attend court hearings hashing out legal issues related to his looming trial on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent, money laundering and obstruction of justice.
Manafort’s attorneys told U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson Sunday night that their client does not wish to attend any hearings in his case held in advance of the trial, scheduled to take place in Washington beginning September 17 on an indictment obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Manafort’s defense did not specify any reason for the request he be excused from the hearings. A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment.
Following a three-week trial in Alexandria, Virginia, a federal court jury last week convicted Manafort on eight felony counts of filing false tax returns, failing to report foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. The jury deadlocked on 10 other counts, but a verdict form showed the jurors split 11-1 in favor of conviction.
In June, Manafort asked to be excused from pretrial hearings in that case, citing a desire to avoid the nearly two-hour trip to the Washington area from the jail he was being held at in Warsaw, Virginia — a drive of about 100 miles in a jail van.
The judge who granted that request later ordered Manafort moved to a jail in Alexandria about a mile away from the federal courthouse there and about ten miles from the one in downtown Washington where the next trial will be held.
In addition to avoiding the road travel, skipping the hearings spares Manafort the need to appear in court wearing a prison jumpsuit. Judges allow defendants who are in custody to appear in ordinary clothes during a jury trial, but typically defendants attending pretrial hearings — where no jury is present — appear in court in jail-issued garments.
Jackson said in an order Monday morning that she is willing to allow Manafort to skip further pretrial hearings, but wants a signed waiver directly from him. His lawyers filed that with the court Monday afternoon and she waived his presence. One hearing in the case to discuss several motions and a jury questionnaire is set for Tuesday morning. Another is set for next week.
Separately, a report Monday said Manafort’s lawyers engaged in talks with prosecutors recently about a potential guilty plea to resolve the charges pending against him in Washington, but the discussions ended without a deal. The negotiations took place while jurors in the Virginia case were mulling their verdicts, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Manafort’s spokesman and a member of Manafort’s legal team declined to comment on the report.
It is unclear whether the discussed deal would have involved Manafort cooperating with Mueller. Such a move could be perilous because President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed sympathy for his former campaign chief in recent days and has left open the possibility of a presidential pardon — a move many of Trump’s aides and advisers expect. On Twitter last week, the president praised Manafort as a “brave man” and lauded him for refusing to “break.”
Mueller’s team has until Wednesday to notify the court in Virginia whether it plans to retry Manafort on the ten counts where the jurors deadlocked.