Paul Manafort has been treated like a “VIP” in jail, with a private bathroom and shower, a personal laptop and phone, and access to a meeting space for his legal team, Special Counsel Robert Mueller told a judge.
That may have just come to an end.
President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman will be transferred from a federal lockup in Warsaw, Virginia, to a jail in Alexandria, where Manafort is set to go on trial July 25 on bank fraud and tax charges. Manafort cited concerns about his safety and “adjusting to a new place of confinement” in trying to block the move, but U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III didn’t buy it.
The Alexandria jail is “very familiar with housing high-profile defendants including foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors,” Ellis wrote, denying Manafort’s request to leave him in place, about a two-hour drive from his lawyers. The judge added that Manafort’s “access to counsel and his ability to prepare for trial trumps his personal comfort.”
Manafort challenged the transfer only days after he had complained he couldn’t properly prepare for trial because his current jail is too far away from his legal team and family in Alexandria.
“It is surprising and confusing when counsel identifies a problem and then opposes the most logical solution to that problem,” Ellis wrote. The dissonance “cannot be easily explained or resolved.”
Manafort’s complaints about the jail conditions were the basis for a request to delay the trial. In court papers filed July 5, his legal team said it was “effectively impossible” for Manafort to prepare because he is “housed in solitary confinement” and locked in his cell 23 hours a day excluding visits from his attorneys.
But visitor logs and recorded phone calls show Manafort was detained in comfort with almost unfettered access to his legal team, Mueller’s prosecutors responded.
“Contrary to Manafort’s assertions about his jail conditions, Manafort is in a private unit in which he can review materials and prepare for trial,” prosecutors said. “In fact, Manafort has reported, in a taped prison call, that he has reviewed all discovery: Just days before filing his motion for a continuance.”
Manafort, who was assigned an extra-large cell in his current jail, also has access to a separate workroom to meet with his attorneys from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Visitor logs from the jail show that each week Manafort had multiple visits with his legal team, according to Mueller’s filing.
July 17 hearing
A hearing on Manafort’s request for the trial delay is scheduled for July 17. At that time the judge will also consider Manafort’s bid to have the trial moved from Alexandria to Roanoke, 244 miles to the south, or the state capital of Richmond. Manafort claimed he can’t get a fair trial in Alexandria because of the publicity generated by his case.
On monitored prison phone calls, Manafort has said he’s been treated like a “VIP,” Mueller said. In the last three weeks, Manafort has had more than 100 phone calls with his attorneys, and another 200 calls with other individuals, according to Wednesday’s filing.
Mueller also says Manafort “developed a workaround” to deal with the prison’s prohibition on prisoners sending or receiving emails.
“Manafort has revealed on the monitored phone calls that in order to exchange emails, he reads and composes emails on a second laptop that is shuttled in and out of the facility by his team,” the U.S. said. “When the team takes the laptop from the jail, it reconnects to the internet and Manafort’s emails are transmitted.”
Manafort’s lawyers responded Wednesday saying Mueller’s description of his jail conditions, while generally accurate, were a “cavalier dismissal of the challenges of preparing for back-to-back complex white collar criminal trials” while locked up.
The defense team also criticized Mueller’s apparent use of personnel to monitor Manafort’s non-privileged phone calls.
“Armed with personal conversations between Mr. Manafort and his family, the special counsel selects snippets to support its version of events,” Manafort’s lawyers said. They also flatly denied Mueller’s claim about the email workaround, saying his communications are “sent by counsel in a manner that is consistent with the rules of the detention facility.”
Manafort asked to delay the trial in Alexandria, until after he’s been tried in Washington, where he’s accused of failing to register in the U.S. as an agent of Ukraine, laundering millions of dollars and obstruction of justice. That trial is scheduled to start Sept. 17.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington revoked Manafort’s bail last month, saying she had no choice but to lock him up because of alleged witness tampering. The judge nevertheless said in a June 21 order that Manafort must be given “reasonable opportunity for private consultation with counsel.”
But Manafort’s legal team didn’t complain until the last minute, the U.S. said.
“The defense has not brought a single issue to the government’s attention, until it received this motion seeking to use his alleged prison conditions as a basis for an adjournment,” the special counsel said.
The cases are U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington), and 18-cr-83, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).