For the second time since October, Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign manager, pleaded not guilty to charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller's office.
Appearing in court Wednesday morning, Manafort was arraigned on a new, superseding indictment that a federal grand jury in Washington, DC, returned against him on Feb. 23.
For the first time, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson set a trial date: Sept. 17. Special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres told the judge that they were ready for a trial sooner, but the judge said she thought the fall date was appropriate given the amount of motions and legal fighting she anticipated having to resolve before then.
The trial is set to start less than two months before the midterm elections on Nov. 6, when congressional Republicans will be fighting to keep control of both the House and the Senate. The indictments against Manafort don't address Trump's campaign, but investigations into whether there was collusion with Russia have dogged the Trump administration from the start. A high-profile, politically charged trial involving someone who at one point was part of Trump's inner circle is likely to be a distraction, at the very least.
The latest indictment largely tracks the original one that a grand jury returned in October. It charges Manafort with conspiracy to defraud the United States, money laundering conspiracy, failing to disclose to the US government the extent of his work on behalf of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and other Ukrainian entities, and making false statements.
But he entered his plea Wednesday under very different circumstances than when he made his first court appearance Oct. 30. His codefendant, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty last week and has agreed to cooperate with Mueller's office. A grand jury in Virginia recently returned another indictment against him. The special counsel's office has continued to reveal a steady stream of new cases, signaling that their work isn't nearing an end anytime soon.
Manafort maintained his innocence after Gates, his longtime business associate and the former deputy campaign chair, appeared in court Feb. 23 to enter his guilty plea. Manafort, though a spokesperson, released a statement saying that Gates's plea deal "does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me.”
That statement got him into trouble with Jackson on Wednesday. Jackson at the start of the case had entered an order — unopposed by either side — barring the lawyers and the defendants "from making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case." She said Wednesday that she wouldn't take action against Manafort, but warned him that his Friday statement ran afoul of her order.
Jackson said she understood Manafort's instinct to defend himself in the face of hundreds of articles about Gates's guilty plea and his connection to Manafort, but warned him against doing it again. Manafort's lawyer Kevin Downing then told Jackson that he would be filing a motion seeking clarification about the judge's order, saying that they did not interpret it as a gag order.
Manafort is due back in court Friday, this time in Alexandria, Virginia, where a grand jury separately returned an indictment against him on different, but related, charges to those in the DC case. He is scheduled to appear for an arraignment on those charges.
The special counsel's office had determined that the charges filed in Virginia couldn't be brought in DC, given the location where the alleged criminal acts took place. Andres said Wednesday that they had asked Manafort if he would be willing to waive the venue issue and allow the new charges to be brought in DC, and that Manafort had declined — as was his right, Andres added.
Nearly four months since his arrest and first court appearance, Manafort remains under home confinement. Jackson issued an order Dec. 15 saying she was prepared to let him go free if he met certain financial conditions, but Manafort has yet to comply with that order. He challenged the terms of Jackson's order earlier this month, but Jackson on Feb. 22 rejected his request to modify the conditions, finding that his proposed changes were unacceptable.
The issue of Manafort's release did not come up during Wednesday's hearing.
Under Jackson's December order, Manafort could go free if he continued GPS monitoring, complied with an 11 p.m. curfew, and only traveled out of southern Florida, where he would be living, with the judge's permission. He also had to put up four properties — two in New York, one in Florida, and one in Virginia — that he would forfeit if he failed to show up at court. If Manafort fled and the value of the four properties was less than $10 million, Manafort's wife and daughter would have to have agreed to serve as sureties to make up the difference.
Manafort proposed pledging a different set of properties, two in New York and two in Virginia. Manafort redacted the addresses of the properties in court papers, but the special counsel's office said in a court filing that Manafort was withdrawing the use of his home in Bridgehampton, New York, which the government said had the highest market value and most equity. Manafort also proposed no longer requiring his wife and daughter to serve as sureties. Prosecutors called his pitch "insufficient."
The new indictment returned in Virginia includes new charges of bank fraud against Manafort, accusing him of lying when he applied for loans in connection with several properties, including the Bridgehampton house.
Bank fraud is the most serious charge filed against Manafort to date — it carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail. In Virginia, he's also facing charges that he submitted false information in tax returns and failed to report foreign bank accounts.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.