Feds Prep Saudi Lobbying Work by Manafort for DC Trial

WASHINGTON (CN) – Decades before Paul Manafort’s lobbying work for a pro-Russia political party led to a U.S. criminal conviction, his lobbying on behalf of the Saudi Arabian government sparked an investigation as well.

Paul Manafort goes through security at federal court on June 15, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

On Tuesday prosecutors working under Special Counsel Robert Mueller persuaded a federal judge to let them introduce some details about this 1980s investigation next month at Manafort’s next trial.

Having reviewed a binder of the evidence that she said contained more than 30 tabs, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said she would consider permitting a small selection of materials if Manafort’s attorneys refuse to stipulate to any of the evidence.

Jackson emphasized that being selective is necessary to void jury confusion. “It starts to become a trial within a trial on things that happened a really long time ago,” she said.

Prosecutors pushed for the evidence to be admitted on the basis that it shows he understood the requirements of the Foreign Agent Registration Act long before Donald Trump tapped him to head up his presidential campaign.

The hearing comes with weeks to go before Mueller’s team tries Manafort on charges that he failed to register as a foreign agent while lobbying on behalf of the pro-Kremlin Ukrainian Party of Regions and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from 2006 through 2015.

While Manafort contends that he did not lobby U.S. officials in this work, the government also claims that he failed to inform U.S. authorities about tens of millions in income that his foreign lobbying generated, and that he made intentional misrepresentations on his Foreign Agent Registration Act filings.

After his trial in Virginia earlier this month, Manafort already stands convicted of separate financial crimes.

During the roughly two-hour hearing Tuesday, Jackson seemed disinclined to let Manafort’s defense team ask potential jurors whether they voted for Trump in the 2016 election. Jackson said it would violate their privacy and doesn’t get to their point of view on the case.

One thing jurors will have to disclose is whether they’ve posted anything about Manafort on social media. Jackson suggested adding the question to an extensive questionnaire that seeks to learn the extent of prospective jurors’ political activity, their knowledge about the case and their main sources of news.

Jackson decided that the courtroom will be closed to the public during jury voir dire. Agreeing to delay proceedings somewhat, Jackson set opening arguments for Sept. 24, a week after jury selection on Sept. 17.

Jackson said given the small jury pool in the District of Columbia, it could take more than a day to seat a jury anyway.

Richard Westling, an attorney for Manafort with the firm Epstein Baker, meanwhile informed the court that they will be filing a motion this week for change of venue.

“Where do you want to go,” Jackson asked.

Westling couldn’t say but Jackson noted the majority of Manafort coverage has been national, not local to Washington, D.C., and that other high-profile cases have successfully taken place in the nation’s capital.

Among government requests that Jackson shot down today was a bid to admit evidence about the law firm Manafort hired to help prepare a report on former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s trial.

Prosecutors also sought to admit evidence pertaining to a series of loans that passed through entities in Cyprus controlled by Manafort to conceal his lobbying funds as income. Prosecutor Greg Andres said the evidence would merely serve as a second way to highlight the money flow and would not pertain to any violations of Ukrainian law.

Andres said the government does not anticipate this arising during trial. Jackson said if it does, the parties can revisit it, while noting that there could be some hearsay elements involved.

Jackson also declined to admit evidence pertaining to Manafort’s tax returns from 2008 through 2008, where he tried to claim a personal resident in Trump Tower in New York City as a business property.

Calling the evidence “a little far afield,” Jackson said she was inclined not to admit it now, but left the door open to revisiting the issue later if need be.

“We don’t anticipate that this will come up at trial either,” Andres said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Manafort signed a waiver so that he need not attend court on the day jurors fill out their questionnaires. Jackson approved his waiver Monday to appear at pretrial proceedings.

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