Prospective Manafort Jurors Receive Instructions From Judge

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Wearing a dark blue suit and red tie –  instead of a green prison-issued jumpsuit – former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort looked on silently Tuesday as a federal judge gave prospective jurors a bit of homework to do before the former lobbyist’s much-anticipated bank and tax fraud trial gets underway next week.

In a brief hearing at a federal court in Virginia Tuesday morning, Judge T.S. Ellis III emphasized the role jurors will play in the case, explaining that ahead of actual jury selection, completed jury questionnaires can give prosecutors and defense attorneys a clearer idea of the jury pool’s composition.

The idea, Ellis explained, is to ensure Manafort is given a fair trial.

“Nothing you do as an American citizen is as important as jury duty,” Ellis said before noting time he has spent observing courts in Latin America and Europe firsthand. “That experience confirmed in me that juries play a vital role in our liberty and our rights as Americans.”

The final list of questions on the jury questionnaire has not yet been made public but in mid-July, special counsel and Manafort’s defense team duked it out over what would make the cut on the form.

A draft questionnaire featured various inquiries including questions like whether jurors “believe in the U.S. tax system and the Internal Revenue Service” or if there was “anything regarding the Special Counsel’s office that would prevent [them from] rendering a fair verdict based solely on the court’s instruction,” according to a July filing.

Questions about prospective jurors’ main source of news or whether they have heard anything about Manafort that would impact their ability to render a fair verdict were also included in July draft.

The only detail Judge Ellis confirmed about the questionnaire came a day earlier. On Monday, Ellis told attorneys jurors would not be asked whether or not they voted in the 2016 election.

Ellis also told the packed courtroom he expected the trial would last no more than three weeks and that he would “make every effort to keep it from lengthening.”

Prosecutor Greg Andres also confirmed Tuesday that special counsel will present witness testimony from the IRS, the FBI and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, an offshoot of the Department of the Treasury.

Judge Ellis was mum on other details about the questionnaire but he did order prosecutors to publicly disclose the list of witnesses they expect to testify during the trial. Those disclosures are expected by Friday.

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