Could you be a Manafort juror?
Posted June 22, 2018 7:51 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — Have you mortgaged your house? Opened a foreign bank account? Do you know any Ukrainians?
These are among the questions that prosecutors and defense lawyers hope to work from to find potential jurors for Paul Manafort's first criminal trial, set to start in federal court in Virginia in late July.
The questions come among 19 pages that special counsel Robert Mueller's office submitted on Friday as the blueprint for selecting 12 jurors and alternates.
The questions, once approved by the judge, will be sent to dozens of people, likely more than the 50 or 60 potential jurors who typically receive questionnaires before a trial begins in the Eastern District of Virginia. Manafort's defense team said they did not object to the set of questions Friday.
"There's nothing in here that surprises me. What's interesting is what's not in here. What they're not getting a sense of is where people stand on Donald Trump," said Ellen Brickman, a jury consultant and trial strategist, after she reviewed the questionnaire.
"It's really not part of the case. It's, I think, the undertone in the conversation."
Yet that undertone -- of Manafort's ties to Republican politics and to Trump- -- may never come close to surfacing in court. In a raft of other court filings Friday that attempt to set ground rules for the three-week trial, both Mueller's prosecutors and Manafort's lawyers said they wanted to keep politics and Trump out of the courtroom.
The charges Manafort faces in Virginia involve alleged financial crimes like bank fraud that date back to before his work on the campaign and relate to his efforts as a lobbyist for Ukrainians. He says he is not guilty.
Prosecutors told the judge they'd like to bar Manafort from suggesting Mueller's office has political motives. They don't want Manafort's team to suggest the case didn't fall within Mueller's mandate from the Justice Department, that Manafort was "singled out" for prosecution because of his ties to Trump or that they targeted him after deciding years before they wouldn't bring a case.
Manafort wants some of the same things kept out of the trial, in essence. He specifically asked the judge to keep "speculation about 'collusion' " out of the prosecutors' trial arguments.
"Specifically, there is a very real risk that the jurors in this case -- most of whom likely have strong views about President Trump, or have likely formed strong opinions as to the well-publicized allegations that the campaign colluded with Russian officials -- will be unable to separate their opinions and beliefs about those matters from the tax and bank fraud matters," Manafort's Friday filing said.
Manafort also wants to keep information about the separate but related criminal charges he faces in DC out of the Virginia trial. He does not want the Virginia jury to hear that he is in jail for alleged witness tampering, either.
Other jury considerations
At the beginning of the trial, the jurors may be told they can't consume any news about the courtroom action online, in print or via TV or radio.
"The people who are reporting the story may not have listened to all of the testimony as you have, may be getting information from people who you may not see here in court under oath and subject to cross-examination, may emphasize an unimportant point or may simply be wrong," proposed jury instructions submitted to the court by Mueller's team said Friday. Manafort's team did not take issue with the set of proposed instructions.
Overall, the instructions tell jurors they should keep an open mind, weigh the evidence presented and must decide unanimously that the prosecutors proved Manafort's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt if they choose to convict him. If found guilty in Virginia, Manafort faces a maximum prison sentence of 305 years.
The word "Trump" doesn't appear in the 122 pages of proposed jury instructions.
The only hint of politics in the instructions concerns the jury's deliberations at the end of the trial.
"Remember at all times that you are not partisans. You are judges -- judges of the facts of this case. Your sole interest is to seek the truth from the evidence received during the trial," the proposed instructions say.
Denied a fourth time
In the other criminal case against Manafort, across the Potomac River in DC federal court, Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied his fourth attempt to cut away at the special counsel prosecutors' case against him.
On Friday she upheld prosecutors' ability to charge Manafort with conspiracy to launder money earned through his foreign lobbying work.
Berman Jackson has previously told Manafort she wouldn't dismiss his entire case, wouldn't dismiss another charge he faces and would allow investigators to use evidence they collected in the raid of his storage unit.
A week ago, Berman Jackson revoked Manafort's house arrest and sent him to jail after prosecutors alleged he had attempted to influence witnesses before his foreign lobbying trial.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the seven charges he faces in DC. His trial before a jury there is set for September.