Mueller Asks Judge to Deny Manafort Change of Venue Request

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller asked a federal judge Friday to deny former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s request to change the venue of his upcoming trial in Virginia.

The federal judge presiding over former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s upcoming trial in Virginia should deny the lobbyist’s request for a change of venue,  according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Mueller filed the motion on Friday, meeting U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III’s demand from earlier this week ordering special counsel to offer its argument for why Manafort should be tried in Alexandria, Virginia instead of Roanoke, Virginia.

“Manafort contends that because this case and Manafort’s political work have attracted substantial pre-trial publicity, the trial should be transferred to Roanoke, Virginia where Manafort suggests that jurors are less likely to have followed the media coverage and to hold and be influenced by political views that Manafort views as unfavorable to him,” wrote prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, one of several attorneys assisting Mueller.

But according to Weissman, the “common phenomenon” of major media coverage in high profile cases doesn’t mean that a jury should be “presumed to be tainted.”

In line with a jury questionnaire Judge Ellis crafted earlier this week, a “careful voir dire,” or jury selection process, is all that is required to ensure Manafort’s trial is fair, Weissman wrote.

The judge has already explained that in light of public interest in Manafort’s case, he would arrange for a wider jury pool as well as a more strenuous selection process well before the trial start date.

“Manafort has presented no reliable evidence that the jury pool holds such entrenched antipathy toward one side or the other that proceeding with voir dire in this venue is inappropriate,” Weissman wrote.

Manafort has argued that that the notoriety around his case, especially online coverage, has spoiled his chances at a fair trial. When his attorney, Kevin Downing, argued for the venue change this week, he suggested that Alexandria, a bustling suburb outside of Washington, D.C., would indicate a higher jury pool of those who have “closely followed the developments and news coverage in his case.”

Their views of the 2016 presidential candidates would “cloud their judgment,” Downing argued. By comparison, he said, Roanoke has a “smaller media outlet” and “fewer people in Roanoke have broadband internet connections.”

But this argument, according to special counsel, undercuts rulings by federal judges in the very district Manafort wishes to be tried.

“As a federal judge in Roanoke — Manafort’s preferred venue — explained,  because the internet is available in every judicial district  any risk that prospective jurors will encounter [such] stories cannot be cured by a change of venue,” Weissman wrote, citing United States v. Cassell.

A hearing in Alexandria, Va. is scheduled for July 17. Manafort’s trial, where he faces multiple counts of bank and tax fraud as well as conspiracy, is scheduled to begin July 25.

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