Manafort Conviction Is Fair Game for 2nd Trial, Feds Say

WASHINGTON (CN) – Prosecutors said Thursday they want to be able to question ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort about his July conviction for financial crimes if he takes the witness stand this month in his second criminal trial.

Paul Manafort leaves the federal courthouse in Washington on Feb. 14, 2018. The trial of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman will open this week with tales of lavish spending on properties and clothing and allegations that the political consultant laundered money through offshore bank accounts. What’s likely to be missing: answers about whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Even though Manafort hasn’t been sentenced yet for his August conviction, Andrew Weissmann with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office said in a trial brief that evidence rules would permit such questioning.

“If Manafort testifies, the government should be permitted to cross-examine him regarding the essential facts of those convictions, and to explore additional details of the crimes should Manafort attempt to minimize his misconduct,” the 5-page brief says.

During a Wednesday pretrial conference in Washington, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson agreed with Manafort that it would prejudice him if prosecutors introduced evidence pertaining to his trial last month in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Jackson deemed the prior proceedings irrelevant to Manafort’s next trial, which involves his failure to register as a foreign agent while lobbying on behalf of a pro-Kremlin political party in Ukraine.

That order did not go as far, however, as to bar prosecutors from introducing evidence used in the Virginia trial, and Jackson left open the question of whether the government can raise his prior conviction to question his credibility if he takes the witness stand.

During Wednesday’s pretrial conference Jackson asked the parties to further brief the question of whether Manafort must first be sentenced before a prior verdict can be used to impeach his credibility as a witness.

According to Weissmann’s brief, the answer to that question is yes.

Under Rule 609, Weissmann says courts have held that guilty verdicts are admissible even when a defendant has not yet been sentenced. Although the D.C. Circuit hasn’t weighed in on this issue, Weissmann’s brief says the circuits that have all agreed on the matter.

And while the rule would require prosecutors to stick to the facts of Manafort’s convictions and bar them from getting into the surrounding details, Weissmann argued that bar would be lifted if Manafort tries to minimize the conduct the jury convicted him for.

Manafort’s defense team will have an opportunity to weigh in on the matter before Jackson issues a ruling.

Jury selection in Manafort’s Washington, D.C., trial is slated to begin Sept. 17, while opening arguments are scheduled for Sept. 24.

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