Manafort cites bias in D.C. area in his re­quest to move one of his crim­i­nal tri­als to Roanoke

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - LOCAL PERSPECTIVES - BY SPENCER S. HSU AND RACHEL WEINER

ALEXAN­DRIA — At­tor­neys for Paul Manafort asked a fed­eral judge to move his fast-ap­proach­ing crim­i­nal bank and tax fraud trial from Alexan­dria to Roanoke, say­ing a more Repub­li­can-friendly jury would de­cide his guilt or in­no­cence more fairly.

The pres­i­dent’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man’s pros­e­cu­tion has “be­come the­atre in the con­tin­u­ing con­tro­versy” sur­round­ing the pres­i­dent and his elec­tion, de­fense at­tor­neys ar­gue, and as a re­sult, “It is dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, to di­vorce the is­sues in this case from the po­lit­i­cal views of po­ten­tial jurors.”

“It is not a stretch to ex­pect that vot­ers who sup­ported Sec­re­tary Clin­ton would be pre­dis­posed against Mr. Manafort or that vot­ers who sup­ported Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump would be less in­clined to­ward the Special Coun­sel,” at­tor­neys Kevin Down­ing, Thomas Zehnle and Jay Nana­vati wrote in a 10-page mo­tion to change venue.

Manafort’s trial is set to be­gin in fed­eral court in Alexan­dria on July 25. The charges re­late to his work for a pro-Rus­sian po­lit­i­cal party in the Ukraine, and stem from the special coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion. He faces re­lated charges in fed­eral court in the Dis­trict.

Judge T.S. El­lis III raised the pos­si­bil­ity of a venue change to Roanoke or Rich­mond at a hear­ing last week, when Manafort’s at­tor­neys sug­gested leaks of in­for­ma­tion about the case had poi­soned any po­ten­tial jury.

Down­ing had sug­gested the case could be dis­missed or de­layed; El­lis said nei­ther would hap­pen.

The fed­eral court­house in Alexan­dria is lo­cated in­side the Cap­i­tal Belt­way and draws from a North­ern Vir­ginia jury pool whose vot­ers heav­ily fa­vored Trump’s 2016 Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Hil­lary Clin­ton, by nearly 2-to-1, the de­fense notes.

By con­trast, the Roanoke area of the West­ern Dis­trict of Vir­ginia fa­vored Trump over Clin­ton by nearly the op­po­site, 63 to 37 per­cent.

“Nowhere in the coun­try is the bias against Mr. Manafort more ap­par­ent than here in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. metropoli­tan area,” they write. “The phrase ‘in­side-the-belt­way’ was coined to cap­ture the area’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with all things po­lit­i­cal.”

Be­cause many in ru­ral Vir­ginia lack broad­band in­ter­net ac­cess and the me­dia mar­ket is much smaller, Manafort’s at­tor­neys also ar­gue that po­ten­tial jurors around Roanoke have not been sat­u­rated with news about the case, as peo­ple in North­ern Vir­ginia have been.

Manafort sin­gled out his in­dict­ment on new wit­ness tam­per­ing charges on June 8 and his jail­ing or­dered a week later by a fed­eral judge in the Dis­trict of Columbia for un­leash­ing “a spate of in­tensely neg­a­tive news coverage sug­gest­ing that Mr. Manafort vi­o­lated the law.”

Manafort’s lawyers ob­served that Trump him­self added to their con­cern, when he tweeted that his for­mer aide got a “tough sen­tence,” in­cor­rectly sug­gest­ing that Manafort had been sen­tenced for com­mit­ting a crime, rather than hav­ing his bail re­voked for vi­o­lat­ing its terms.

“Mr. Manafort sub­mits that a fair trial will im­pos­si­ble with­out a change of venue to Roanoke, Vir­ginia,” the lawyers con­clude.

Also on Fri­day, at­tor­neys for the special coun­sel made clear in a fil­ing how they plan to link Manafort’s al­leged bank fraud to the Trump cam­paign.

“The gov­ern­ment does not in­tend to present at trial ev­i­dence or ar­gu­ment con­cern­ing col­lu­sion with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment,” As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Uzo Asonye writes.

How­ever, he said pros­e­cu­tors will present ev­i­dence that banker Stephen Calk helped Manafort ob­tain $16 mil­lion in loans be­cause he hoped to get a po­si­tion in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“In short, the de­fen­dant’s role with the Trump cam­paign is rel­e­vant and in­ex­tri­ca­bly in­ter­twined with the ... bank fraud and bank fraud con­spir­acy charges,” Asonye writes. “Here, it would be dif­fi­cult for the jury to un­der­stand why the loans were ap­proved with­out un­der­stand­ing that the lender ap­proved the loans, in spite of the iden­ti­fied de­fi­cien­cies, be­cause the se­nior ex­ec­u­tive fac­tored in his own per­sonal am­bi­tion.”

Manafort’s trial in D.C. fed­eral court is set to be­gin on Sept. 17.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Paul Manafort, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man, has asked a judge to move one of his crim­i­nal tri­als to Roanoke.

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