Paul Manafort’s complaints about his life in jail backfired spectacularly Wednesday. After weeks of him saying he couldn’t prepare for his late July trial behind bars, a federal judge ordered the former Donald Trump campaign chairman to be transferred to an Alexandria, Virginia, detention facility minutes from DC.
For almost a month, he has lived in a VIP unit at a rural Virginia regional jail two hours from Washington, where he’s retained some conveniences of the outside world.
“It is surprising and confusing when counsel identifies a problem and then opposes the most logical solution to that problem,” Judge T.S. Ellis wrote about Manafort’s requests in his order to move him out of Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia.
Prosecutors described in their own court filing Wednesday how Manafort had told people in phone calls from the jail that he is “being treated like a ‘VIP’” and has reviewed all the documents needed for his bank fraud trial.
The prosecutors’ descriptions of his jail conditions imply that Manafort has had a far easier living situation than other inmates. He does not stay in a cell, but rather has a separate workroom and private bathroom and shower in his holding area. He has a telephone and laptop with an extension cord and doesn’t have to wear a prison jumpsuit.
Manafort has had hundreds of phone calls with his lawyers and even more with others and has sent emails through his lawyers to outside contacts, the special counsel’s office wrote in the filing. Regarding how he’s prepared for trial, prosecutors heard him say on a taped call that he’s reviewed all the evidence, met with his lawyers every day and has “all my files like I would at home,” the filing says.
Manafort has even used a workaround, prosecutors allege, to send more emails to outsiders: He “reads and composes emails on a second laptop that is shuttled in and out of the facility by his team. When the team takes the laptop from the jail, it reconnects to the internet and Manafort’s emails are transmitted,” the prosecutors said.
Manafort’s attorneys criticized the prosecutors’ descriptions of the jail conditions and his emailing tactics, saying the idea of being a VIP is exaggerated.
“The Special Counsel does not pause to consider the reasons a detained defendant might have to make his situation sound better when speaking with concerned friends and family,” Manafort’s attorneys said in a filing later Wednesday.
They wrote that prosecutors’ “cavalier dismissal of the challenges of preparing for back-to-back complex white collar criminal trials while the defendant is in custody shows a lack of concern with fairness or due process.”
Previously, they had described him as being kept in “solitary confinement” almost 24 hours a day for his own safety.
Manafort’s life inside the Alexandria facility will be just as secure – but likely not in as expansive a suite.
“The professionals at the Alexandria Detention Center are very familiar with housing high-profile defendants including foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors,” Ellis wrote. “All of those defendants were housed safely in Alexandria pending their respective trials and defendant’s experience at the Alexandria Detention Center will presumably be no different.”
Manafort’s three-week jury trial on 18 counts of alleged financial crimes is set to begin July 25 at the federal courthouse in Alexandria. Next week, both sides will discuss with the judge the possibility of delaying the trial or moving it to Roanoke, in the southwest part of Virginia, to avoid the political culture of DC. Prosecutors oppose changing the trial plans.
More Manafort setbacks
Ellis delivered another piece of bad news for Manafort in a second court order Wednesday. He denied Manafort’s request to throw out from the trial evidence investigators had obtained from his apartment in Alexandria last July. The search was not too broad, as Manafort had alleged, and did not violate his constitutional rights, Ellis said.
“These facts, taken together, lend ample support to the common-sense conclusion reached by the magistrate judge here, namely that probable cause existed,” Ellis wrote about the search warrant that investigators obtained and some of the evidence seized in the search. A day earlier, Ellis had denied Manafort’s attempt to throw out the evidence from boxes of business files investigators found in a storage unit.
Separately, in Washington federal court, prosecutors building a second criminal case against Manafort disclosed their allegation that the longtime lobbyist’s foreign lobbying violations date to the 1980s.
Prosecutors would like to use in his fall criminal trial the accusation that Manafort broke foreign lobbying laws three decades ago to show that he knew the extent of the law.
In 1986, prosecutors wrote, the Justice Department investigated foreign lobbying work by Manafort and his two companies at the time. Though Manafort registered to lobby for Saudi Arabia, they say he didn’t disclose to the government lobbying and public relations work he did for the Bahamas and Saint Lucia. In addition, prosecutors say he was involved in 18 foreign lobbying activities that went unreported to the Department of Justice.
Manafort at the time was both registered as a foreign lobbyist and leading a federal agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. The Reagan White House didn’t grant him a waiver to serve as both a public official and a foreign lobbyist, so instead of registering with the Justice Department or resigning from the federal agency, Manafort avoided the disclosures, prosecutors say. He was not charged with a crime then.
“Manafort contended only his firms – and not he – needed to register,” prosecutors wrote in Wednesday’s court filing.
In May 1987, the Justice Department warned Manafort that he hadn’t correctly made full disclosures and asked him to explain $350,000 he had earned in fees above the revenue he had reported.
Prosecutors’ filing Wednesday also alleges that the two political consulting companies Manafort worked with, Black Manafort Stone & Kelly and Black, Manafort & Stone, had received warnings about their foreign lobbying disclosures. (The “Stone” in his organizations’ titles referred to Roger Stone, an adviser to Trump who’s also facing inquiries from the Robert Mueller probe. Stone does not face criminal charges.)
Prosecutors are seeking the court’s approval to use the details about Manafort’s work 30 years ago as it presents the case against Manafort to a jury in September. That trial, in DC federal court, tackles allegations that Manafort broke foreign lobbying laws and conspired to launder his proceeds.
CNN’s Eli Watkins contributed to this report.