ALEXANDRIA, Virginia—Paul Manafort’s trial was delayed until next week by Judge T. S. Ellis on Monday. The first major trial in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference and links between Trump campaign officials and Russia—a tax and bank fraud case against Trump’s former campaign chairman—had been scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
Manafort’s legal team argued on Monday that it needed more time to review tens of thousands of pages of files retrieved by the government from the electronic devices of his former deputy Rick Gates. Uzo Asonye, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, argued for the government that those files were mostly photos and thus not relevant to the case for the government’s purposes. Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, argued that because Gates’ testimony would be “at the heart of the government case,” his legal team needed more time to review those files for something potentially exculpatory.
Manafort’s team had been seeking a longer continuance that might push the trial date past that of a separate case against Manafort in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which is currently scheduled for September. Ellis split the baby and postponed the trial six days until next Tuesday, July 31. The judge also ordered that the government provide the defense with a full witness list.
Judge Ellis maintained scheduled voir dire questionnaire dispersal for this Tuesday, but jury selection itself won’t begin until next week, when the trial is scheduled to begin. Ellis ruled earlier in the day that the names of five witnesses whom prosecutors had sought to keep under seal should be revealed, and he also granted them immunity that was requested by the government. Talking Points Memo reported that those names were: James Brennan, Donna Duggan, Conor O’Brien, Cindy Laporta, and Dennis Raico.
For jury selection, the judge rejected an apparent request by the defense for jurors to be asked who they voted for in the election. “We are not going to inquire into how people voted,” Ellis said. He offered that each side would seek to strike jurors based on their voting patterns and that he trusted jurors to be “fair and impartial,” whoever they voted for.
The trial has been a political lightning rod. Manafort is being charged with crimes related to allegedly unregistered lobbying work he did on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. Mueller had been tasked with investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any possible links or coordination between Russians and members of President Donald Trump’s campaign. Earlier on Monday, Trump tweeted twice directly about Mueller’s investigation, calling it the “conflicted and discredited Mueller Witch Hunt!” and saying that it should be “dropped.”
Mueller has won indictments and plea deals against dozens of people so far, including 12 Russian intelligence officers who are alleged to have participated in election interference, including hacks of the Democratic National Committee.
Ellis made very clear that this case—which covers tax and bank fraud charges against Manafort—was supposed to stick to those charges alone.
“I’m not going to allow this trial to drag on,” he told the courtroom on Monday. “I’m not in the theater business. You have to be better-looking for that.”*
Manafort, who is being detained in Alexandria while he awaits trial, was in the courtroom in the morning, but not in the afternoon.
*Correction, July 23, 2018: This post originally misquoted Judge T.S. Ellis as having said “I’m in the theater business.” The quote has been fixed.