Jurors failed to reach a verdict after a third day of deliberations Monday in Paul Manafort’s tax- and bank-fraud trial as questions swirled around their ability to ignore the politically charged cacophony enveloping them, including President Donald Trump’s public suggestion that his former campaign chairman’s trial is a miscarriage of justice.
The six men and six women weighing Manafort’s fate had their longest work day yet — staying past 6 p.m. — in a trial that started in late July and has now stretched into its fourth week.
U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III sent the jurors home with the same instructions as he has done each day of the trial and during their deliberations: do not conduct personal research and don’t discuss their work with anyone. “Put it out of your mind,” Ellis said.
Outside the courthouse, one of Manafort‘s attorneys, Kevin Downing, offered another optimistic take on the jury deliberations that are now spilling into a fourth day. “Mr. Manafort’s very happy to hear that, and this was a very good day,” Downing told reporters.
Ellis ordered the jurors to come back at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Back at it
On Monday morning, the jurors notably sat clustered together in the jury box and bunched up as close as they could to Ellis — rather than spread out in several extra seats — when they returned from the weekend to the ninth-floor federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia.
“You may deliberate as long or as little as you like,” Ellis said as he ran through his well-worn script, questioning the jurors about whether they had researched the case outside the courtroom or spoken to others about it (they said they hadn’t). Then a court security official escorted the jury to a nearby conference room.
Addressing a request by news media organizations to unseal portions of the trial transcripts, Ellis said nearly everything said in private during bench conferences would be released to the public after the verdict. The judge also said he would not release jurors’ names and addresses.
As the jury debated Monday behind closed doors, dozens of reporters passed the time camped out in Ellis’ courtroom reading newspapers, doing crossword puzzles and sharing theories about the case.
Manafort, who is being held in a courthouse cell as the jury deliberates, met briefly with his legal team. His lawyers spent much of the day in the Westin hotel across the plaza from the courthouse, settled into their regular table at the lobby restaurant.
Back inside the courthouse, an intern for a television network said she spotted a cart of food being wheeled into the room around lunchtime where the 12-person jury was meeting.
No CNN for the jury
The Manafort jurors have long known they are assigned to a high-profile case; the packed courtroom, reporters dashing out to file stories and a fleet of satellite trucks deployed around the courthouse leave little doubt of that.
However, Trump’s comments Friday calling Manafort a “good person” and his trial a “very sad day” may have intensified the pressure on jurors as they try to follow Ellis’ repeated instructions to ignore media coverage and other public commentary about the case.
Manafort’s defense team has embraced the presidential condolences and seems to have embarked on a public campaign in favor of its client. Downing has spoken briefly to the phalanx of TV cameras outside the courthouse on each of the last four days that court was in session, after keeping mum outside the courtroom during the first few weeks of the trial.
On Friday, Downing said on camera that the team was grateful to Trump for speaking out on Manafort’s behalf.
“Mr. Manafort appreciates the support of President Trump,” the defense attorney said.
Downing seems to be trying to boost public sympathy for his client, which could pay off regardless of whether his comments reach jurors’ ears. Many legal observers believe Manafort’s team is making a play to Trump for a potential pardon if the former Trump campaign chief is convicted on any of the charges in the Virginia case or a separate trial set to take place in Washington beginning next month.
But while Trump’s allies have amplified the message — “We have our fingers crossed for Paul,” former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said on Twitter — critics said it was inappropriate for the president to weigh in mid-trial and for Downing to draw attention to Trump’s remarks while the jury, which is not sequestered, is deliberating.
“Manafort attorney is likely violating ethical rules by his comment,” former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah said on Twitter. “Gov should make motion. Completely inappropriate. (President’s comments are too of course but Ellis doesn’t have control over that).”
A spokesman for the defense declined to comment Sunday.
Trump, meanwhile, has kept up a steady drumbeat of complaints about the ongoing probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates helped. Manafort is not accused of wrongdoing directly related to Russia, but the charges against him arose from that investigation.
“So many lives have been ruined over nothing — McCarthyism at its WORST!” Trump wrote on Twitter Sunday morning, blasting Mueller’s investigation as a “Rigged and Disgusting Witch Hunt.”
Despite the president’s frequent attacks, jurors at Manafort’s trial have encountered no explicit argument in the courtroom that Mueller’s appointment as special counsel or his team’s work is illegitimate. Before the trial, Ellis rejected a motion challenging the special counsel’s authority, but the judge made clear he is no fan of the concept of an independent prosecutor.
Nevertheless, it seemed no accident that in closing arguments last week, defense attorneys reminded jurors no fewer than eight times that the case against Manafort was brought by the special counsel’s office. In one instance, Downing stopped to explain to jurors that the small-print footer “SCO” in one of the exhibits meant it came from the special counsel’s office.
Defense lawyer Richard Westling also told jurors that “typical Justice Department prosecutors” don’t bring bank-fraud charges based on facts like those in the Manafort case.
Adding to the tension surrounding the trial, Ellis said Friday he was aware of unspecified “threats” related to the case, and he said jurors would likely be “scared” and “afraid” if their identities became public. Even if jurors didn’t hear directly about his comments on that front, their friends and family members surely have.
“I had no idea that this case would excite these emotions, I will tell you frankly,” the judge said, adding that he travels to a hotel each night in the company of federal marshals.
Ellis made the statements at a hearing on a motion by seven news organizations, including POLITICO, seeking access to a variety of sealed motions and transcripts of closed hearings the judge held. The media also requested access to the jurors’ names and addresses — a request that prompted pushback from some who said the jury’s task was already difficult enough.
Legal experts said it was far from shocking that the jury, which heard testimony from 27 witnesses and has been handed nearly 400 exhibits, was still mulling its verdicts after two days.
“At least they are still deliberating,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor from Miami. He said the defense “must be feeling better” than the Mueller team but warned that speculating much more than that is hazardous.
It takes time to reach unanimous decisions, and he said it was also possible the jury had reached decisions on some of the counts and was struggling with others. Weinstein said it was not unusual to see an hour of deliberation for each day of the trial, which would put the jurors on track for three or more days of discussions, depending on how often they take breaks.
“While I was among those who expected a verdict prior to the weekend, I realize that this will take some time because ultimately Manafort’s intent is at issue,” Weinstein said. “For now, it appears it was a wise choice to keep him off of the stand.”
“If it goes beyond Monday, I’d start to worry,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told POLITICO on Friday.
The California congressman noted his experience as a former Alameda County deputy district attorney to highlight how each jury is different and warned against reading too deeply into what the delays and jurors’ notes to the judge could mean.
One of the jurors’ questions Thursday afternoon could signal that the deliberations could be a long haul. One or more jurors sought an index of all the exhibits in the case, cross-referenced to all the criminal counts. No such document is known to exist. Preparing one would be a daunting task and involve many subjective judgments, so Ellis turned the request down.
If members of the jury want to make such an index themselves, it could take days.
Jurors also asked about the meaning of reasonable doubt and about when Americans have to file reports on bank accounts overseas.
Manafort’s lawyers called the set of questions a “good sign” that jurors were rigorously reviewing the government’s evidence.
“For all those who said they don’t understand why Manafort is not cooperating, maybe now they’re seeing why,” said Jon Sale, a close friend of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and a former Watergate investigator.
Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor from northern Virginia, said jurors’ questions showed they were “very thoughtful, conscientious and paid attention during the trial” but might not have gotten the relevant information from witnesses.
“Reading into jurors’ motives based on questions can be more hazardous than Victorian tea-leaf reading,” Rossi said. But he added that it was notable the jurors had requested a larger room to examine the nearly 400 exhibits made available to them for deliberations.
“This is an exceedingly good omen for the government,” Rossi said. “The more the jury looks at the documents, the less reliant the government’s case is on Rick Gates and other immunized witnesses. If the jury finds from the documents corroboration of Gates’ and others’ testimony, then that spells extremely bad news and doom for Mr. Manafort.”
Meanwhile, the scene around the courthouse has taken on something of a carnival atmosphere. A wall of cameras stationed in the plaza keeps swiveling between the federal building’s main entrance and the Westin hotel, where the Manafort attorneys and Kathleen Manafort, the defendant’s wife, are usually stationed in the restaurant to await a verdict.
All the major television and cable networks have sent reporters to the scene. Retirees, protesters and a tour guide holding a sign promoting the website for his Washington company, which offers tours focused on the city’s African-American history, have also shown up.
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