Manafort Judge Questions His Bid to Travel Among Three Homes

(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge deferred ruling on the adequacy of a proposed $11.7 million bail package that would free Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, from home confinement and could allow him to travel among New York, Virginia and Florida.

At that same hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson scolded Manafort for contributing to an opinion article published last week in the Kyiv Post despite her order to refrain from using the media to influence public opinion about his Oct. 27 money-laundering and conspiracy indictment in the news media.

“The point of the order is to have the merits of the case debated by everybody in this courtroom and not in the press,” Jackson said during a pre-trial hearing in federal court in Washington. “That order applies to you and not just to your lawyers.”

Over the past week, prosecutors for Special Counsel Robert Mueller objected to Manafort’s work on the editorial published in Ukraine, which defended his political consulting for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and others. Prosecutors said the op-ed undermined their trust in his ability to live up to the terms of his release before his trial. He is accused of hiding his work in Ukraine from the Justice Department, laundering $18 million and concealing offshore accounts from the U.S. 

Jackson said that while Manafort may have believed that his editorial would draw little notice outside of Ukraine, the pervasive effects of the Internet and social media made widespread dissemination far more likely. Still, she stopped short of punishing Manafort.

Facing Bias

Despite that ruling, defense attorney Kevin Downing bemoaned his client’s "very difficult situation" in facing news coverage he called misleading and "clearly biased." The judge countered that Mueller’s team also had been the subject of "a lot of negative press" and "didn’t have the opportunity to go out on the street and set the record straight."

Manafort and his co-defendant Rick Gates, a former business associate, appeared together in the courtroom where they pleaded not guilty on Oct. 30. They are among four former Trump associates charged by Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s presidential election.

After chastising Manafort for the editorial, Jackson then questioned whether he had offered sufficient assets to ensure his future appearances, raising doubts about whether he should be able to move freely among homes in Alexandria, Virginia, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and New York. She said she would rule later on the question.

Prosecutors had earlier agreed that the four properties he offered had enough equity to secure his appearances, but the judge questioned why Manafort hadn’t submitted appraisals for a lower Manhattan condominium and another one in Alexandria. The lead prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, said he was satisfied that Manafort had offered sufficient assets. 

Jackson questioned why Manafort needed to move between three homes and where he lives the most. Downing said he’s a Florida resident but does more business in New York. “Quite frankly, he does business all over the United States and internationally,” Downing said. 

Waiving Conflict

Downing said the case against his client is built primarily on his failure to file forms under the Foreign Agents Registration Act and to disclose his offshore accounts. Most of the case is not that strong, he said.

Gates hasn’t yet submitted a formal request to remove him from home confinement in Richmond, Virginia, although he has asked the judge several times for permission to attend his children’s sport events.

Prosecutors had warned Gates that one of his attorneys, Walter Mack, may have a conflict of interest because he represents a defendant in a separate fraud case who may act as a witness against him. The judge closely questioned Gates, who said he understood the possible conflict and wanted Mack as his lawyer anyway. She ruled he knowingly waived his objection to any potential conflict.

The case is U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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