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Paul Manafort, left, leaves Federal District Court in Washington on Monday, Oct. 30. (AP photo)
Paul Manafort, left, leaves Federal District Court in Washington on Monday, Oct. 30. (AP photo)

Manafort faces Obama appointee on bench

When ex-Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, appeared in court Thursday, it was their first appearance before the judge who’ll preside over their money-laundering and conspiracy case: a Harvard Law School graduate appointed by President Barack Obama.

In just six years on the bench, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson has a record on hot-button issues that might cause President Donald Trump’s already overheated Twitter feed to burst into flames.

Earlier this year, for instance, she dismissed a lawsuit filed by the parents of two of the four Americans who died at the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, seeking to hold Trump’s election opponent Hillary Clinton responsible.

And four years ago, she sided with the Obama administration request and put on hold a lawsuit by House Republicans demanding papers related to former Attorney General Eric Holder’s botched Fast-and-Furious gun-tracking operation.

That said, she also declined to dismiss the suit and, last year, rejected an executive branch privilege claim and directed delivery of the documents. She also sentenced former Illinois congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., a Democrat, to 30 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to charges arising from his misuse of campaign funds.

Release terms

A Baltimore native born in 1954, Jackson served as District of Columbia federal prosecutor, where she received a commendation for her work on murder and sexual assault cases before going into private practice. She’s been a partner of criminal defense lawyer Plato Cacheris at the firm now known as Trout Cacheris & Janis, and of one-time U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, when both were at Venable LLP.

As a defense lawyer, Jackson defended former Louisiana Congressman William J. Jefferson, who was sentenced in 2009 to 13 years in prison for bribery. Last month, he was ordered freed from prison after a judge tossed out seven of 10 charges against him. She defended a man accused of one of the largest mortgage frauds in Virginia history — he got seven years in prison after pleading guilty — and she represented Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and other banks in a financial fraud class-action lawsuit.

Her son, Matthew, was a Jeopardy champion.

One of the first issues Jackson will likely confront with Manafort and Gates, whose indictments were unsealed on Oct. 30 by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, is whether the terms of their release from federal custody are sufficient to ensure they continue showing up in court.

After Minnesota Lawyer’s deadline, prosecutors were set to argue that the men are a flight risk given their financial resources, foreign contacts and seriousness of the charges they face. They’re presently on house arrest. That may have changed Thursday afternoon depending on what Jackson decided.

Manafort told a federal judge that the money-laundering and tax case against him is “embellished,” as he urged a judge to keep in place his $10 million bail.

Manafort offered the argument in a filing on Thursday in advance of a hearing in federal court in Washington. He also said he will not flee the country before the trial.

It’s rare for judges to hold white-collar offenders behind bars before a trial or guilty plea — even Bernard Madoff was allowed to remain free on a $10 million bond — but it happens.

For instance, Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader charged with conspiring to evade American sanctions against Iran, has been sitting in a New York jail since his arrest in April 2016. A judge denied his request to be freed on a $50 million bond in June 2016, ruling there was too much risk that he’d flee the country.

Community ties

The judge will consider the “preponderance of the evidence” and her decision can be reviewed by an appeals court, especially if the two are ordered jailed. She’s required to review the strength of the government’s case, the defendants’ ties to the community, and other factors she considers important. And if she wants to know where Manafort’s bail money is coming from, she’s entitled to hold a hearing to try and find out.

Both men are under house arrest, with Manafort on an unsecured $10 million bond and Gates’s, a $5 million bond. Each is required to check in with the authorities daily by phone.

The defendants, who worked for a pro-Russian Ukrainian government, are accused of concealing income from that work, laundering those funds, failing to register with the U.S. as agents of a foreign government and lying to federal agents.

Together they’re accused of 12 federal crimes. Just the money laundering charges alone could land Manafort in prison for 15½ years, one of Mueller’s deputies, Greg Andres, said at Monday’s arraignment before a federal magistrate judge. Gates could be sentenced to as may as 12½ years.

They pleaded not guilty.

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