WASHINGTON (CN) – Demanding a new venue for his second conspiracy trial, convicted lobbyist Paul Manafort argued Wednesday that the decks are stacked against him in the nation’s capital.
Citing “sensationalized” press coverage he characterizes as “untethered from the facts in the case,” Manafort claims the coverage has been most intense in the Washington, D.C., area.
The 9-page motion by Manafort this morning seeks a change of venue to Roanoke, Virginia, to protect his Sixth Amendment rights. It follows a two-hour hearing in which U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson remarked that the press coverage has been national in nature of the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s election campaign.
Jackson would preside over the D.C. trial, set to kick off in mid-September, roughly a month after Manafort was convicted of financial crimes in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Manafort’s defense team had unsuccessfully tried to move his prior trial as well, and they say negative press coverage has “reached new heights” after their client’s recent conviction of eight felonies.
“The conclusion of that trial less than four weeks prior to the start of jury selection in this case, presents new and increasingly difficult challenges to Mr. Manafort’s effort to ensure a fair jury trial in this case,” the motion says.
Manafort’s motion also notes that, just a week after the verdict against Manafort, a Google search about his conviction for financial crimes generates more than 2.5 million hits.
Naming negative press as the culprit, Manafort’s attorneys say even their client’s former boss contributed to false notions about the case.
Shortly after Judge Jackson revoked Manafort’s bail because he had tampered with the government’s witnesses, President Donald Trump tweeted that Manafort had received a “tough sentence.”
At this point Manafort had not been convicted of a crime.
Manafort’s defense team says the politicized nature of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, coupled with the controversies surrounding the 2016 election and President Trump, make it nearly impossible for Washington, D.C.-area jurors to divorce their political views from the issues in the case.
With a population of only 700,000, the nation’s capital offers a small jury pool, to be sure, and one that is more likely to read political news. Wednesday’s motion also notes that more than 90 percent of district residents who voted in 2016 cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.
According to Manafort, media coverage is less intense in Roanoke and fewer people have access to broadband internet, making potential jurors less likely to have been exposed to press coverage about his cases.
But during Tuesday’s hearing Jackson noted that other high-profile cases have been successfully tried before a Washington jury.
Jackson had promised Tuesday not to prejudge the motion. It worth noting, however, that Manafort made many of the same arguments in the unsuccessful bid to move his trial in Virginia.
As he heads to trial in Washington next month, Manafort has asked that the court allow him to sit out the day when potential jurors fill out extensive questionnaires. Prosecutors said Wednesday they take no position on whether the court should accept his waiver, but noted “in an abundance of caution” that D.C. Circuit precedent has previously required such waivers to be done in open court.