For weeks, Manafort has implored judges to alleviate the distance between him and his lawyers while he’s at Northern Neck Regional Jail, about two hours outside Washington. On Tuesday, federal Judge T.S. Ellis stepped in to move Manafort to an Alexandria, Virginia, detention center so he “has access to his counsel and can adequately prepare his defense.”
But Manafort doesn’t want that, his attorneys said Tuesday. Five hours after Ellis said he could move closer to his lawyers, Manafort told the court he’d prefer to stay at Northern Neck. His safety among other inmates is one concern, his lawyers say.
“In light of Mr. Manafort’s continuing detention and after further reflection, issues of distance and inconvenience must yield to concerns about his safety and, more importantly, the challenges he will face in adjusting to a new place of confinement and the changing circumstances of detention two weeks before trial,” Manafort’s attorneys wrote to the judge Tuesday afternoon.
Manafort has been held in a “VIP” unit for one at the rural Warsaw, Virginia, facility since a federal judge in DC revoked his bail on June 15. The judge found Manafort had violated the terms of his house arrest by contacting potential witnesses in his case — an action that also led to two obstruction of justice criminal charges piled on top of the bank fraud, lobbying and other financial crime allegations he faces. He is set to face a jury in Virginia for a three-week trial on alleged financial crimes beginning July 25.
A trial in DC that focuses on alleged foreign lobbying violations is separately planned to start in mid-September.
Since his lockup almost a month ago, Manafort has complained in several court papers about his current situation. His lawyers have repeated that he’s “locked in his cell for at least 23 hours per day” and located about 100 miles or two hours from them. In a previous filing to Ellis, Manafort’s attorneys wrote that his time in jail is an “unforeseen development” that “severely impacted the ability of the defense to effectively prepare for the upcoming trial before this court.”
Manafort’s team has asked to push his trial date back until at least the fall so they have more time to prepare with him. They’ve also asked to change the Virginia trial’s location to Roanoke, in the southwest part of the state, so he might face a less liberal-leaning jury. Ellis hasn’t yet decided on those requests or responded to Manafort’s wish to stay at Northern Neck jail.
Manafort has separately asked an appeals court in DC to release him from jail immediately. It has not ruled yet.
Manafort has not been seen publicly since the judge sent him to jail. He did not come to Alexandria for his last court hearing a week and a half ago.
A second decision from Ellis on Tuesday led to yet another setback for Manafort before his trial. He lost a major request his team had made to limit prosecutors’ use of evidence against him at trial.
Ellis denied Manafort’s attempt to throw out boxes of business documents that prosecutors had gained in a raid of his storage unit last year. After the FBI agent who conducted the search testified in court, Ellis found that the search didn’t violate Manafort’s rights.
Manafort’s request to keep the evidence out of the trial was one of his last remaining attempts to avoid the full weight of the criminal case that prosecutors plan to bring against him when his trial on bank fraud and other financial crimes charges starts in two weeks.
Manafort had argued that the FBI agent didn’t have the proper legal authority to enter the storage unit after an underling of Manafort’s let him in. Investigators obtained a search warrant from a judge over Memorial Day weekend 2017 before they seized several boxes of business documents in the storage space. Manafort had contested that warrant as well.
The FBI agent’s “interaction with (Manafort employee Alexander) Trusko clearly demonstrates that Special Agent (Jeff) Pfeiffer acted under a reasonable belief that Trusko had common authority over the unit and thus granted valid consent to a search of the unit,” Ellis wrote.
The evidence seized from Manafort’s storage space “is not fruit of the poisonous tree,” Ellis added.
A federal judge in DC, Amy Berman Jackson, also upheld prosecutors’ use of the evidence from the raid.
Manafort previously lost all other attempts he’s made to throw out his cases by challenging special counsel Robert Mueller’s authority and to eliminate some of the 25 criminal charges he faces.