ALEXANDRIA: A US judge on Monday delayed the criminal trial of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort until next week, and made public the identity of five witnesses granted immunity to testify.
US District Judge T.S. Ellis III also said the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller must provide a list of about 30 witnesses to lawyers for Manafort, who had sought a delay in his trial that had been scheduled to start on Wednesday on bank and tax fraud charges.
Manafort, a longtime Republican operative and businessman, appeared in court for the hearing in a green prison jumpsuit. He has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
It will be the first trial to originate in the special counsel’s investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
Ellis said the trial delay until July 31 would give Manafort’s attorneys more time to review material recently submitted by prosecutors, but he warned it would not be a lengthy process.
“I’m not going to allow this trial to drag on,” Ellis said, adding he would not let it turn into political theatre. “I’m not in the theatre business.”
According to court filings unsealed by Ellis on Monday, Mueller had requested immunity for Dennis Raico, Cindy Laporta, Conor O’Brien, Donna Duggan and James Brennan. They are all financial professionals who may have gained some knowledge of Manafort’s business dealings.
Prosecutors said on Monday the only references to Manafort’s role in the campaign during the trial would involve a banker who agreed to lend Manafort money in exchange for a role in Trump’s campaign.
The banker was not named in open court. In court on Monday, Ellis asked prosecutors if the banker who lent Manafort money in exchange for a campaign role knew the documents to support the loan were inaccurate. “He did,” prosecutor Greg Andres replied.
The Manafort charges largely predate the five months Manafort worked on the Trump team in 2016, some of them as campaign chairman.
None of the charges relates to possible coordination with Russian officials by members of the Trump campaign, which is part of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the election, and Andres said on Monday the topic of alleged collusion would not be discussed in the trial.
The Kremlin denies election interference and Trump denies collusion.
Manafort faces a second criminal trial in Washington in September on related charges, including witness tampering, in connection with lobbying work he performed for the former pro-Russia Ukrainian government. His lawyers have argued they need more time to prepare for both cases.
Mueller’s probe has led to multiple indictments and several guilty pleas from other Trump associates, including Rick Gates, a former Trump deputy campaign chairman who worked with Manafort. Alex Van der Zwaan, a lawyer who once worked closely with Manafort and Gates, has also pleaded guilty and has been sentenced.
Although the charges did not reference the Trump campaign or the 2016 election, legal experts have said they put more pressure on former Trump aides to cooperate with Mueller as he looks into whether Russia tried to influence the election in favour of Trump by hacking the emails of leading Democrats and distributing disinformation and propaganda online.
Ellis has questioned Mueller’s probe and said Manafort’s indictment appeared aimed at leveraging him to provide information on Trump.
Mueller’s team has outlined an extensive list of evidence to present at the Virginia trial, submitting a 21-page list detailing more than 400 exhibits that include scores of bank records, emails and photographs, among other documents.
Manafort’s lawyers have sought to exclude some of the exhibits, arguing they are irrelevant and would prejudice the jurors, but Mueller’s office said the documents were pertinent.
Manafort’s lawyers also complained on Monday that the prosecution had turned over 120,000 additional pages of discovery without giving them ample time to review the records before trial, an argument the judge agreed with issuing the delay.
Among the records turned over earlier in July included 20,000 accounting records from Manafort’s bookkeeping company, as well as voluminous images taken off electronic devices belonging to Gates, Manafort’s former business partner.