Prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller intend to present evidence at the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort that a banking executive allegedly helped Manafort obtain loans of approximately $16 million while the banker sought a role in the Trump campaign.
Manafort faces trial on bank fraud and other financial charges in the Eastern District of Virginia beginning July 25. Until now, there had been no indication that his role in the Trump campaign would become part of the trial, and he had asked the judge to keep details about his ties to President Donald Trump out of the trial. Prosecutors say any alleged collusion with the Russian government won’t come up at the trial.
The allegation of a possible quid pro quo came amid several court filings Friday as both sides count down the remaining weeks until the trial. While prosecutors filled in the Trump campaign details, Manafort’s team was busy filing requests with the judge to move his trial location and date, to look into possible leaks from the prosecutors and to keep Manafort out of the public eye.
“The government intends to present evidence that although various Lender D employees identified serious issues with the defendant’s loan application, the senior executive at Lender D interceded in the process and approved the loan,” according to the filing from Mueller’s team.
The bank executive “expressed interest in working on the Trump campaign, told (Manafort) about his interest, and eventually secured a position advising the Trump campaign,” the filing said. The unnamed man “expressed an interest in serving in the administration of President Trump, but did not secure such a position.”
While the senior executive is unnamed in this filing, in a previous court filing prosecutors identified Lender D as The Federal Savings Bank.
“Here, it would be difficult for the jury to understand why the loans were approved without understanding that the lender approved the loans, in spite of the identified deficiencies, because the senior executive factored in his own personal ambition,” prosecutors wrote in the filing.
Manafort’s team asks to move location, date of trial
Manafort’s team wants to move the financial crimes trial from Alexandria to Roanoke, Virginia, and push its start date back to the fall or later, they said in other filings Friday.
The lawyers claim it would be impossible for their client to have a fair trial in a place like Washington, where partisan politics are strong and the public closely follows national media and political news. Roanoke is in the southwestern part of the state about four hours from DC.
It “is difficult to conceive of a matter that has received media attention of the same magnitude as the prosecution of Mr. Manafort,” his lawyers wrote. “Mr. Manafort’s legal issues and the attendant daily media coverage have become theatre in the continuing controversy surrounding President Trump and his election.”
They point out specific instances where Manafort has faced “intensely negative news coverage,” especially in the past month. After a judge in DC revoked his bail three weeks ago, even Trump tweeted that Manafort got a ” ‘tough sentence’ – incorrectly suggesting that Mr Manafort had been sentenced for committing a crime,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote.
They describe how the Alexandria area had voted 2-to-1 in favor of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, while the Roanoke region’s votes were more evenly split.
“It is not a stretch to expect that voters who supported Secretary Clinton would be predisposed against Mr. Manafort or that voters who supported President Trump would be less inclined toward the Special Counsel,” Manafort’s attorneys wrote.
They also claimed separately that investigators including Andrew Weissmann, who now leads the trial team at the Special Counsel’s Office, had guided Associated Press journalists in their reporting on Manafort in 2017. If the judge finds that there indeed were illegal leaks, the investigators could be sanctioned.
Trial time and date
As for the start date, Manafort’s attorneys say they’ve had difficulty preparing for trial since their client was sent to jail June 15 by a DC federal judge for alleged witness tampering. So they’d like for the Virginia trial to move to after his DC criminal trial, which is set to start September 17.
The DC trial, which will focus on foreign lobbying allegations, will take weeks longer than the Virginia proceeding, which is likely to rely largely on financial-document evidence.
“Time is needed to allow passions to cool and to permit the seating of an impartial jury,” Manafort’s attorneys wrote to Judge T.S. Ellis.
The inconvenience of jail also plays into their request. Manafort is being held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day in Warsaw, Virginia, about 100 miles from DC.
Before, when he was on house arrest in Alexandria, Manafort would spend hours at a time, multiple times a week, in his lawyers’ offices discussing evidence. Now he’s two hours away by car and can speak with them on the phone for only 10 minutes at a time, his lawyers said. Plus, prosecutors are still turning over evidence that Manafort may use to prepare his defense, including electronic data from his longtime deputy Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty in DC federal court and agreed to assist prosecutors.
“Mr. Manafort’s current detention has made meetings with his attorneys to prepare his defense far more infrequent and enormously time-consuming compared to when he remained on house arrest,” the filing said.
Manafort’s attorneys have complained to several courts and for several reasons now about him being held in jail.
For instance, Manafort waived his right to appear in court for any upcoming hearings in the Eastern District of Virginia, his attorneys wrote in a filing Friday.
No other hearings are currently scheduled before the district court until his trial starts. Ellis made clear last week that Manafort’s team wouldn’t get a hearing on government leak accusations they’ve made before the trial, although it’s possible a pretrial conference could be added to the schedule.
Manafort would appear in person at his trial and possible sentencing, the filing said. Manafort has been held in Northern Neck Regional Jail, about two hours from DC in rural Virginia, and has not been seen publicly since June 15. He also did not come to a hearing in the case last Friday.
His reason for not appearing has been “the great time and distance involved in having the US Marshals Service transport him to court from the Northern Neck Regional Jail. Appearing in court requires him to spend at least two hours in transit in each direction,” his attorneys wrote Friday.
Manafort would likely wear a jail-issued jumpsuit in hearings before the judge, as is standard in federal court. Only when he appears before a jury at trial would he have the opportunity to revert to the business suits he previously wore to court.
His attorneys have not asked for the same blanket waiver of appearance in his DC criminal case, which has two hearings scheduled between now and his September trial date.
But they are appealing Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s decision to send him to jail. He’s seeking to be let out before his trial, his attorneys have told the appeals court in DC.
Manafort’s attorneys say he’s in solitary confinement for “at least” 23 hours a day because “the facility cannot otherwise guarantee his safety,” according to a court filing Thursday.
They imply Manafort’s safety might be at risk if he were held with other inmates.
“The facility and U.S. Marshals have acted with professionalism and respect in their efforts to ensure Mr. Manafort’s safety. They have simply determined that, if Mr. Manafort is to be detained, solitary confinement is the only way to ensure his security,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote Thursday.
They argue that Berman Jackson was wrong to revoke his bail for alleged witness tampering.