WASHINGTON - A U.S. judge on Monday delayed the start of the trial against President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman on bank and tax fraud charges until July 31, far short of the months of delay his lawyers had sought.
The trial of Paul Manafort, a longtime Washington lobbyist and Republican party operative, had been slated to start Wednesday. But Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, only pushed it back to next week. Manafort's lawyers had sought a lengthy delay to give them more time to review thousands of pages of documents about Manafort's financial transactions.
Ellis also ruled that prosecutors can grant immunity from prosecution to five witnesses they want to call for testimony against Manafort, later identified as Dennis Raico, Cindy Laporta, Conor O'Brien, Donna Duggan and James Brennan, although their links to the case were not immediately known.
The 69-year-old Manafort, appearing Monday in court in a green prison jump suit, served as a key Trump aide in the summer of 2016 as the real estate mogul clinched the Republican party's presidential nomination ahead of his successful run for the White House. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The criminal case against Manafort may only peripherally touch on his involvement with Trump's campaign.
It almost entirely concerns his lobbying efforts for Ukraine and money he earned representing the country's now-deposed strongman, Viktor Yanukovych, in the years before the 2016 U.S. election. Manafort is accused of using offshore bank accounts to hide millions of dollars he was paid by Yanukovych and his political party before he was ousted in a 2014 popular uprising in Kyiv and fled to Russia in exile.
The case against Manafort was developed by prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller who is in the midst of a 14-month investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, whether Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow to help him win and whether Trump as president obstructed justice by firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey. The fired FBI chief was leading the agency's Russia investigation before Mueller was appointed to take it over.
In September, Manafort faces another trial in Washington on charges he failed to register as a foreign agent.
Because the foreign agent registry is not at issue in the Virginia case, Manafort's lawyers are seeking to keep potential jurors from learning of Manafort's lobbying efforts for Yanukovych.
In a court filing, they said, "The fact that Mr. Manafort performed foreign consulting work, and that he was paid for that work, is not in dispute. Evidence concerning Mr. Yanukovych, the Party of Regions, and the work that Mr. Manafort performed on their behalf poses the substantial risk that the jurors will be sidetracked by Mr. Yanukovych’s controversial tenure as Ukraine’s president, his removal from power in the midst of public protests, the charges of treason brought against him by the Ukrainian government, and his current exile in Russia.”
But the prosecutors said that the "evidence of Manafort’s significant work for Ukraine is necessary to establish the source of Manafort’s money and quantify the corresponding amount of income earned. Further, Yanukovych’s loss of power in 2014 is highly relevant to explain the dramatic decrease in Manafort’s income in and after 2014 — which led to the defendant’s involvement in the charged bank frauds.”
It was not immediately clear how Ellis might rule on what evidence about Manafort's involvement with Yanukovych the prosecutors can present.