Trump-Russia collusion investigations

Judge in Paul Manafort’s trial received threats – so he’s keeping the jurors’ identities a secret

The jury has broken up for the weekend, while Donald Trump has defended his campaign manager, calling him a ‘very good person’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 August, 2018, 6:09am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 August, 2018, 9:23am

The judge at the criminal trial of Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, announced on Friday that he had decided to keep the jurors’ identities a secret after he himself was threatened.

“I’ve received criticism and threats,” Federal District Judge TS Ellis III said, hours before the jurors broke up for the weekend. “I imagine they would, too.”

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“I had no idea this case would excite these emotions,” said Ellis, who is being protected by US marshals. “I don’t feel right if I release their names.” Jury lists are usually made public unless a judge gives a reason for keeping them secret.

The announcement came after two days of deliberations over Manafort, who faces up to 350 years in prison on tax and bank fraud charges. That same day, US President Donald Trump issued a fresh defence of his former campaign manager, calling him a “very good person”.

A coalition of media organisations had filed a motion requesting the jurors’ names, as well as access to sealed transcripts of bench conferences during the trial.

Later in the afternoon, the six-man, six-woman jury sent a note seeking to be dismissed for the day. Ellis granted the request. The jury will resume its deliberations in the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, on Monday.

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Manafort, 69, once a high-flying Republican political consultant, is accused of providing fraudulent statements to secure bank loans and failing to pay taxes on tens of millions of dollars he earned while advising Russian-backed politicians in Ukraine between 2006 and 2015.

The jury’s deliberations followed a three-week trial in which federal prosecutors called 27 witnesses to testify against Manafort.

The list included Manafort’s deputy on the Trump campaign, Rick Gates, who struck a plea deal and has been cooperating with Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

While this trial is focused on Manafort’s finances and not Russian interference in the 2016 election, it is the first major test of Mueller’s investigation.

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Trump has repeatedly sought to discredit the investigation as a “witch-hunt”, even as the special counsel has brought indictments against 32 individuals and three companies, and already secured five guilty pleas.

Ellis’s comments came hours after President Trump defended Manafort as “a good person” and declined to rule out a pardon.

“I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad,” Trump told reporters on the south lawn at the White House, before departing for a fundraiser in New York. “I think it’s a very sad day for our country. He happens to be a very good person, and I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”

Asked if he would pardon him, Trump said: “I don’t talk about that now.”

Trump had previously attempted to distance himself from Manafort, saying in June: “You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time…. He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something? A very short period of time.”

Manafort worked for Trump for five months.