Judge Rejects Request for Special Manafort Jury Questionnaire

(CN) – The federal judge overseeing ex-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s Virginia trial has denied the government’s request to use a special jury selection questionnaire.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III issued the ruling from the bench during a motions hearing Friday in Alexandria, Virginia.

The government had asked for a jury selection questionnaire due to intense media scrutiny of the case, which prosecutors had argued on June 21 was threatening Manafort’s right to a fair trial for multiple bank and tax fraud charges, along with  charges of conspiracy and making false statements.

Prosecutors said negative media accounts of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which portray it as tainted, and accounts that disparage Manafort could potentially prejudice the jury pool.

Ellis however said during the June 29 hearing that he has taken under advisement Manafort’s motion to suppress evidence obtained from his Alexandria storage unit and condominium, as well as his motion requesting a hearing on whether alleged leaks of grand jury information to the press have damaged his fair trial rights.

Manafort has already lost a bid in his Washington case to suppress evidence obtained from his storage locker.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled on June 21 that the FBI agent who entered Manafort’s storage locker to look around on May 26, 2017 – the day before obtaining a search warrant – did not need Manafort’s consent to do so.

One of Manafort’s employees, Alexander Trusko, let the agent into the storage unit. Trusko’s name was on the lease, and Jackson said his consent as a third party was enough to let the agent in.

Jackson also revoked Manafort’s pretrial release on June 15 after a grand jury found probable cause that he tampered with the potential testimony of two witnesses. He has since been jailed at the Northern Neck Regional jail in Warsaw, Virginia.

His detention order is currently on appeal at the D.C. Circuit. Last week his attorneys argued that his detention in solitary confinement two hours away from his attorneys are making it “impossible” for him to prepare for trial.

Defense attorney Kevin Downing called the evidence that Manafort tampered with witnesses “thin – to be generous” in a June 28 appeal brief, and said Jackson failed to properly consider that.

Jackson said during a June 15 hearing that she need not consider the merits of the evidence since the grand jury indictment itself means there is probable cause.

Manafort is facing multiple indictments in Virginia and Washington, D.C. related to lobbying work he did on behalf of a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, none of which relate to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Manafort’s Virginia trial is set to begin July 25, while his trial in Washington will get underway Sept. 17.

In another development Monday, both Mueller’s team and Manafort’s defense attorneys submitted their proposed voire dire requests in Virginia.

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