Security enhanced after death threats to judge in Paul Manafort trial

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The jury in the bank and tax fraud trial of U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, stopped its work on Friday afternoon and will meet for their third day of deliberations on Monday, according to the judge in the case. 

Judge T. S. Ellis III also said he would not be releasing identifying information about the jury of six men and six women over concerns for their safety. Security was tightened in the courtroom Friday after the threats.  

“I’ve received criticism and threats,” Ellis said. “I imagine they would, too.”

The judge said he is currently under the protection of U.S. marshals. He declined to delve into specifics, but said he’s been taken aback by the level of interest in the trial.

News organizations had asked for the names of the jurors during a hearing Friday, as well as sealed documents related to the three-week trial.

Jury lists in the U.S. are presumed to be public unless a judge articulates a reason for keeping them secret.

Before wrapping up their first day of deliberations on Thursday in Alexandria, the jury sent the judge a note with four questions, including one about the law on disclosing foreign bank accounts and another seeking a definition for “reasonable doubt.”

It was the “reasonable doubt” question that caught some legal experts most by surprise as it suggested one or more jurors may be grappling with whether the prosecution met this standard of proof on certain counts.

“The fact that they are sending questions on reasonable doubt tells me that the group is divided,” said jury consultant Alexandra Rudolph. “There is at least one juror who has not decided the case and who is not convinced.”

Politically charged

Manafort faces five counts of filing false tax returns, four counts of failing to disclose his offshore bank accounts and nine counts of bank fraud. If convicted on all the charges, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Prosecutors say Manafort hid tens of millions of dollars in foreign income from the IRS, money he made advising politicians in Ukraine. When the Ukrainian money dried up, they say he lied on loan applications to maintain his cash flow.

Defence lawyers say the government failed to prove its case.

The case is politically charged because it is the first to go to trial stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election, although the charges largely predate Manafort’s five months working on Donald Trump’s campaign.

Verdict could be seen as referendum on Mueller’s probe

The verdict could have major consequences for Mueller’s probe into whether Trump’s campaign helped Russia interfere with the 2016 presidential election. Analysts told CBC News that the public will see the outcome of the trial as a referendum on the investigation.

The Trump administration’s reaction to any verdict will also be closely watched.

Speaking at the White House on Friday, Trump called Manafort a “very good person.” The president has previously called Manafort’s trial part of a “witch hunt” being orchestrated by Mueller. Today he added “I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”

Asked if he would pardon Manafort, Trump said “I don’t talk about that.”

In addition to the “reasonable doubt” question, jurors asked the judge about:

  • When someone must disclose a foreign bank account to the Treasury Department.
  • The definition of a “shelf company” — an inactive company often sold to people aiming to bypass the registration process.
  • About whether the exhibit list could be amended to show which exhibits correspond with what counts.

David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami, cautioned about reading too much into the questions, noting it was still early into deliberations after 10 days of testimony.

“There is no easy way to read the tea leaves we have seen in the jury notes.”

With files from CBC News and The Associated Press

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