Things Are So Bad For Paul Manafort He Now Has To Wear Two GPS Monitoring Bracelets
Manafort pleaded not guilty on Thursday to a new indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Virginia.
Paul Manafort will stay under home confinement after pleading not guilty Thursday to the latest set of charges filed by special counsel Robert Mueller's office, but now he'll wear two GPS monitoring bracelets, instead of just one.
Manafort is facing an 18-count indictment returned last month by a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, in addition to the indictment he's already facing in federal court in Washington, DC. He made his first appearance in the Alexandria courthouse on Thursday afternoon.
US District Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled Manafort could be released pending trial, subject to home confinement and electronic monitoring, the same conditions he's under in DC. A Virginia probation officer explained to the judge that because of limits to the technology, she couldn't access the data from the DC bracelet, hence the need for two.
Manafort got a taste for the scheduling speed that the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is known for; it's often referred to as the "rocket docket." Ellis III set a trial date for July 10, well before the Sept. 17 trial date in the DC case, which was filed in October.
The government said it would be ready for trial in Virginia by mid-May, disagreeing with Manafort's lawyer Kevin Downing that it was a complex case that required more time. "I think you're wrong," Ellis told special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann. Downing successfully negotiated for a later date, but told the judge that his preferred trial date would be in November, if he were wearing "rose-colored" glasses.
"Well, you need to go back to the optometrist," Ellis replied. "That ain't gonna happen."
Ellis found that Manafort posed a flight risk, given his substantial financial assets. He said he would be open to considering lifting home confinement once Manafort finalized a bail package that satisfied the judge handling the case in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. But Ellis isn't bound to do what Jackson does, a point he made clear during Thursday's hearing.
Weissmann told the judge the special counsel's office anticipated needing 8 to 10 days to present the government's case at trial, and that the government expected to put on 20 to 25 witnesses.
On Feb. 22, the special counsel's office announced that the Virginia grand jury had returned a superseding indictment against Manafort and his longtime associate and former Trump campaign deputy director Rick Gates. The 32-count indictment charged the two men with filing false income tax returns, failing to report foreign financial accounts, and bank fraud.
The charging document also upped the amount of money that Manafort was accused of laundering, from the $18 million alleged in the original indictment out of Washington, DC, to $30 million. Manafort isn't charged with money laundering in Virginia — he's already facing that charge in the case originally brought by the special counsel's office in Washington, DC — but the indictment included the accusation in its description of his alleged criminal activities over the years.
A federal grand jury in DC first returned an indictment against Manafort and Gates in late October. The 12-count indictment accused the two men of conspiring to defraud the US government, money laundering, failing to register with the government as agents for foreign entities, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and making false statements.
Ellis expressed concern about overlap between the two trials. Weissmann noted that they had given Manafort the choice of having the Virginia charges brought in DC — prosecutors said the alleged criminal activity at issue only took place in Virginia, which means they couldn't bring the case in DC without Manafort waiving the venue issue — but Manafort declined, as is his right.
Downing said Manafort planned to challenge both criminal cases on the grounds that Mueller's appointment as special counsel was invalid; Manafort is also pursuing that argument in a civil lawsuit against the Justice Department. Ellis said he expected only one judge would rule on that issue.
Manafort has maintained his innocence. When Gates pleaded guilty on Feb. 23 after taking a deal and agreeing to cooperate with the special counsel's office, Manafort released a statement through a spokesman saying that Gates's plea "does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me."
The special counsel's office has dropped the charges against Gates in Virginia, per his plea agreement, leaving 18 counts against Manafort. The bank fraud charges carry the most serious maximum penalties of all the criminal counts he faces in DC or Virginia — up to 30 years in prison. In court papers filed Feb. 28, the special counsel's office estimated that on the tax fraud charges alone, Manafort faces an advisory sentencing guidelines range of between 97 and 121 months in prison — about 8 to 10 years.
In the DC case, the government said Manafort faced an advisory sentencing guidelines range of 188 and 235 months in prison — about 15 to 19 years.
Manafort's civil lawsuit against the Justice Department and Mueller argues that Mueller's appointment was invalid and that the special counsel's office has exceeded the scope of its investigatory authority. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, asks for a court order "setting aside all actions taken against Mr. Manafort pursuant to" Mueller's appointment by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but Manafort's lawyer has previously said in court that they aren't asking for dismissal of the criminal case against him.
US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is presiding over Manafort's civil lawsuit as well as the criminal case against him, expressed confusion about how Manafort's lawyer's statements squared with the text of his lawsuit. The Justice Department has filed a motion asking Jackson to dismiss the lawsuit; Jackson has yet to rule.