WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Alexandria, Va., has ordered Paul Manafort to be moved to the city jail, although Manafort has asked to stay in a rural facility where prosecutors say he is receiving special treatment.
Judge T.S. Ellis wrote in a filing published Wednesday that Manafort’s “access to counsel and his ability to prepare for trial trumps his personal comfort.”
Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager, had asked for his July 25 federal trial in Alexandria, on bank and tax fraud charges to be delayed in large part because it was difficult to prepare while incarcerated 100 miles away. But on Tuesday, Manafort resisted being moved to Alexandria, arguing that while the city jail would be more convenient, he did not want to adjust to new circumstances so close to trial.
“It is surprising and confusing when counsel identifies a problem and then opposes the most logical solution to that problem,” Ellis wrote. “The dissonance between defendant’s motion to continue and motion opposing transfer to the Alexandria Detention Center cannot easily be explained or resolved.”
Prosecutors said in a court filing Wednesday that Manafort has told people he is being treated like a “VIP” in the Northern Neck jail, where he has his own phone and computer, writes emails and does not have to wear a uniform.
Moreover, attorneys for Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe say Manafort wants the trial delayed only for strategic reasons.
In a recent phone call they say he explained in vague terms why he wanted to go to trial first in D.C. federal court, where he faces related charges in a trial set for September.
“Think about how it’ll play elsewhere,” Manafort said, according to the court filing. “There is a strategy to it, even in failure, but there’s a hope in it.”
In recent phone calls, they say Manafort also has said he has “all my files like I would at home,” has “gone through all the discovery now,” and is being treated like a “VIP.”
Manafort speaks to his attorneys every day and often multiple times a day, they said. While the calls are limited to 15 minutes in length, there is no limit on how many calls he can make.
“Among the unique privileges Manafort enjoys at the jail are a private, self-contained living unit, which is larger than other inmates’ units, his own bathroom and shower facility, his own personal telephone, and his own workspace to prepare for trial,” the prosecutors wrote. “Manafort is also not required to wear a prison uniform.” He also has a personal laptop, they say, with an extension cord so he can use it in his unit and not just the workroom.
Manafort has even “developed a workaround” to send emails, which prisoners normally would not be allowed to do, according to prosecutors: “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. When the team takes the laptop from the jail, it re-connects to the Internet and Manafort’s emails are transmitted.”
Manafort’s lawyers replied in a filing that “while it is possible for Mr. Manafort to provide counsel with information he would like communicated, any communication is then sent by counsel in a manner that is consistent with the rules of the detention facility. “
Manafort filed a motion last week asking for his Virginia trial to be delayed until this fall, arguing it was impossible to fully prepare due to distance and with limited electronic and phone access.
In a separate D.C. court filing in which he also described his Northern Neck jailing, Manafort had said he is kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day.
The D.C. filing came as Manafort appealed the ruling last month that sent him to jail after a federal judge ended his home detention and ordered him detained following Manafort’s indictment on attempted witness tampering while he had been awaiting trial.
Prosecutors said that at the time Manafort was jailed June 15 and at multiple times since, they have offered to help if there were any issues with the jail location or conditions. He has not reached out, they said in court filings.
In his order, Ellis directed the Alexandria jail to allow Manafort, “to the extent practically possible” to meet with his attorneys for eight hours a day until trial.
He noted that the Alexandria jail has housed many high-profile detainees, “including foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors.”
Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne said he was “aware that he’s been remanded to our custody and when he arrives he’ll go through the proper classification process. We’ll house him properly in order to meet everyone’s needs.”
Manafort also argued to have his Virginia trial continued on the grounds that he needed more time to review the many documents in the case, which centers on his work for a Russia-backed political party in Ukraine.
Prosecutors say the bulk of the documents handed over recently come from Manafort’s own bookkeeping service, and so are not unfamiliar to him.
They also recently provided Manafort with 8,290 documents from the computer of his former business partner, Richard Gates, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the prosecution. “Review of that material can be accomplished well in advance of the July 25 trial date and does not warrant a months-long adjournment,” the government filings said.
Prosecutors noted that Manafort knew his refusal to let the Virginia bank and tax fraud charges be combined with his federal case in D.C. case would likely lead to this schedule. The District involves federal conspiracy and money-laundering charges and the witness tampering charge.
“Manafort can hardly now complain about the order of the trials,” the special counsel attorneys said.
Manafort has also argued that his trial should be moved from Alexandria to Roanoke, where jurors are more likely to support the president, his attorneys told the court.
Prosecutors have not yet responded to that motion, but in Wednesday’s filing they question why Manafort did not file a similar request in D.C., “a venue that presumably Manafort views as akin to the Alexandria venue he seeks to avoid.”
Ellis has not ruled on the Virginia continuance or the change of venue. He has scheduled a hearing on both issues for Tuesday at 1 p.m.
He will also hear argument Tuesday on a jury questionnaire, having reversed course and decided to issue one to potential jurors. The judge’s proposed questionnaire asks about experience with the Internal Revenue Service, opinion on business ties with Ukraine, and ability to “put to one side everything you have seen, read, heard, or know about this case.”