Jurors in the trial of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort began their second day of deliberations Friday morning, a day after sending the judge questions about legal points raised by the defense.
The panel began deliberating shortly after 9:35 a.m, after which U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III told lawyers on the case that he later in the day he would address a motion from several media outlets to unseal discussions that took place over several days near the end of testimony.
Ellis noted he had already said he planned to unseal those discussions when the trial ended. “It was not permanent,” he said Friday, though he added that some names may not be revealed.
He also indicated that the matter the lawyers spent days discussing involved a medical condition, and that the precise details of that may also not be revealed.
The judge said the conversations were not sealed to try to duck criticism. He joked that while he was no stranger to criticism, “this case has brought it to a new level” – a reference to complaints from prosecutors and others that he has repeatedly made remarks in front of the jury that could sway their view of the case.
The judge also noted that neither prosecutors nor the defense lawyers objected to the sealing of those discussions.
A media coalition including The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN and BuzzFeed filed motions requesting sealed discussions and records from the trial be made public. The group also asked for the names and addresses of jurors and alternates.
In making the request, the media groups said the information is public under the First Amendment and common law, and would “aid the public’s understanding of this important case.”
Ellis said he was open to scrutiny. “A thirsty press is essential to a free country,” he said.
He also said one matter would remain sealed after the case was over. That may be a reference to a moment in the trial when the judge appeared to discuss privately with the lawyers parts of the ongoing investigations of special counsel Robert Mueller that have not become public. The Manafort trial is the first one to arise out of Mueller’s work.
As the Alexandria, Virginia jury of six women and six men neared the end of its first day of deliberations on Thursday, they sent a note to the judge asking four questions about the case.
Manafort faces 18 charges of tax and bank fraud. Prosecutors say he hid millions of dollars from the IRS in overseas bank accounts and then lied to banks to obtain multi-million dollar loans.
The jurors’ questions suggest they are quickly diving into the weeds of the sometimes complex tax laws at issue in the case.
First, jurors asked if someone was required to file a form called an FBAR – which is required of people with foreign bank accounts containing more than $10,000 – if they owned less than 50 percent of such an account and did not have signature authority but did have the ability to direct disbursement. At trial, Manafort’s lawyers suggested their client might have believed he did not have to file such forms, because the companies in question were set up under his consulting firm. After 2011, he shared ownership of the firm equally with his wife.
In response, the judge read to them again the legal instructions he provided on that point Wednesday. He told the jury that along with the requirement for people who own more than 50 percent of a company with foreign bank accounts, a person must file FBARs if he “controls the disposition of money, funds, or other assets held in a financial account by direct communications.”
Second, jurors asked if the judge could define “shelf company” and the filing requirements related to income. Witnesses testified at Manafort’s trial that he used what are known as shelf companies – companies previously created by a lawyer in Cyprus that could be used to control the bank accounts in question – in order to move Manafort’s money. To that question, the judge said the jury would have to rely on their memory of the evidence presented at trial.
Third, they asked if the judge could “redefine reasonable doubt.” Jurors sometimes struggle with what constitutes a reasonable doubt of someone’s guilt vs. an unreasonable doubt. The judge told them reasonable doubt “is a doubt based on reason,” but added: “The government is not required to prove guilt beyond all possible doubt.”
Defense attorneys emphasized in their closing argument that it’s not enough to believe a defendant is “likely” guilty or even “highly likely” guilty, using a thermometer chart to make the point.
Fourth, the jurors asked if they could have an updated exhibit list, connecting each piece of evidence to the corresponding charge in the indictment. The Manafort trial has nearly 400 exhibits. The judge said they would have to rely on their collective memory to link exhibits to specific charges.
Outside the courtroom Thursday, defense attorney Kevin Downing said that it had been “overall, a very good day for Mr. Manafort,” and he was heartened by the jury’s questions.
“I think it’s all a good sign, yes,” he said.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Rachel Weiner, Matt Zapotosky, Lynh Bui, Devlin Barrett ·