Mueller Pushes for Strict Limits on Manafort Defense

WASHINGTON (CN) – Gearing up for Paul Manafort’s second criminal trial, prosecutors asked a federal judge Friday to bar a repeat of prejudicial statements by Manafort’s defense.

When Manafort was on trial earlier this month in Virginia, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis had to instruct the jury to ignore comments the defense made about the what motivated the criminal prosecution.

Defying a judge’s order, defense attorneys intimated that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had selectively prosecuted Manafort because of his role in 2016 as chief of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The prosecution had asked Ellis beforehand to outright bar such statements, but Ellis instead ordered the defense to approach the bench with any such arguments for approval before making them to the jury.

Jurors ultimately found Manafort guilty on eight of the charges he faced in Virginia, but Manafort is set to go on trial again next month on separate charges, including his failure to register as a foreign agent.

Concerned that Manafort’s defense attorneys will again cross this line, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann asked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to prohibit similar arguments from the Manafort trial over which she is set to preside in Washington, D.C..

“The defendant’s improper comments during the Eastern District of Virginia trial heighten the need for the Court to bar proactively any arguments or suggestions to the jury of selective or vindictive prosecution,” the motion says. “The government’s reasons for initiating a prosecution have nothing to do with whether the evidence at trial proves the elements of the charged offenses, which is the sole question that the jury must answer.”

Should Manafort ignore another court order, Weissmann proposed that Jackson be prepared to inform the jury to disregard the question of prosecutorial motive, and stress that the defense violated a court order not to address the issue because of its irrelevance.

At the Virginia trial, prosecutors presented extensive evidence showing that Manafort concealed millions in income he stashed in offshore accounts to evade taxes, and that he lied to obtain millions in bank loans.

Manafort earned the income he hid from foreign lobbying work on behalf of a pro-Kremlin political party in Ukraine.

In his Washington, D.C., trial Manafort faces more charges related to his lobbying work, including conspiracy, money laundering, obstruction of justice, failure to register as a foreign agent and making false statements on Foreign Agent Registration Act paperwork.

His next criminal trial is slated to begin Sept. 17.

Also on Friday prosecutors sought to admit evidence in the Washington, D.C., trial that two of Manafort’s businesses – Davis Manafort Partners Inc. and DMP International LLC – failed to report foreign bank accounts.

Manafort argued unsuccessfully during the Virginia trial that he had no obligation to report the accounts on personal tax returns, or to file foreign bank reports.

Weissmann says the government wants to offer evidence in his next trial that Manafort personally controlled the accounts, which received tens of millions of Manafort’s Ukrainian lobbying income.

“None of these accounts were disclosed on tax returns or in FBAR filings, allowing the defendant to use the accounts to hide his substantial income from U.S. tax authorities,” the filing says, using an abbreviation for the report of foreign bank and financial accounts.

Weissmann said the government will argue that Manafort’s failure to disclose the accounts was no misunderstanding, but that it was conscious and willful.

Weissmann said introducing additional evidence that Manafort failed to register foreign accounts “is not plausibly likely to lead the jury to convict based on a character assessment, as opposed to as part of an intentional scheme.”

Any risk or unfair prejudice can be mitigated by a limiting jury instruction, Weissman said.

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