Mueller Seeks Special Juror Questionnaire in Manafort Trial

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Thursday asked a federal judge to use a special questionnaire to select jurors for the upcoming trial of Paul Manafort, arguing in a court filing that intense media coverage of the case is jeopardizing the former Trump campaign chairman’s ability to get a fair trial.

In the 28-page filing, Mueller’s team says “the Manafort investigation … has been the subject of extensive media coverage. A Westlaw search of major newspapers for the terms ‘Manafort’ near ‘trial’ or ‘investigation’ yielded over 3,500 results.

“Similarly, the same search of transcripts of television and radio broadcasts returned over 1,300 hits, including in major news outlets, such as all major television networks and newspapers, but exclusive of social media like Twitter feeds,” the filing says.

Manafort’s trial in Virginia on multiple charges of bank and tax fraud charges, conspiracy and making false statements to law enforcement, is scheduled to start on July 25.

But the publicity surrounding Manafort isn’t the only reason Mueller says he wants a special questionnaire incorporated into the jury selection process.

“Some of the media accounts question the legitimacy of the Special Counsel’s investigation, tending to advance the opinion that the investigation is ‘tainted’ and therefore its results are suspect,” special counsel says. “Other media accounts, by contrast, include disparaging descriptions of the defendant. Adverse pretrial publicity can be a significant source of potential prejudice.”

The nature and scope of the publicity around both special counsel and the former campaign chairman “raises a substantial danger” that potential jurors may already have formed opinions about Manafort’s guilt or innocence, Mueller argues.

“Written questionnaires assist both the parties and the court and have important advantages over oral voir dire alone both in exposing bias and in serving the interest of judicial efficiency and economy,” Mueller adds.

The benefits of having the questionnaire are numerous, special counsel says, noting they are “more private encourage honesty, particularly about sensitive issues involving bias or prejudice that are critical in this case.”

They also reduce the influence of “evaluation anxiety” which can cause jurors to temper their responses to a judge because they know they are being evaluated as they respond, the filing says.

Special questionnaires are often used in jury selection in high profile cases. For example, one was used in U.S. vs. Rahman, a 1999 case in which defendants appealed convictions associated with the bombing of the World Trade Center .

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