ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The judge in Paul Manafort's financial fraud trial said Friday that he has received threats and he fears for the "peace and safety" of the jurors deciding the fate of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III revealed his concerns shortly before the jury concluded its second day of deliberations.
"I've received criticism and threats. I imagine they would, too," he said when explaining why he doesn't intend to make jurors' names public at the end of the trial.
Jury lists are presumed to be public unless a judge articulates a reason for keeping them secret.
The judge said he is currently under the protection of U.S. marshals.
"They go where I go," he said. "I don't even go to the hotel alone; I don't give the name of the hotel." The judge lives in Charlottesville but stays at a hotel on the weekdays when he works out of the Alexandria courthouse. A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service did not immediately comment.
Jurors ended their second day of deliberations Friday a half-hour early, without reaching a verdict. They sent a note to the judge asking to wrap up at 5 p.m. instead of 5:30 p.m. because a juror had an event to attend. They are to return Monday morning.
Ellis made the surprising statement about the threats during a hearing at which a consortium of news organizations pressed for the release of the jurors' names, along with other documents sealed during the trial. The judge rejected the request for juror information, citing security concerns.
There have been specific threats, Ellis said, although he declined to provide details. He said if jurors' names were exposed they would be threatened as well, and for their "peace and safety," he would not release their names.
"I had no idea this case would excite these emotions, I can tell you frankly," the judge said.
Ellis was more accommodating on another request made by the press. He said some of the sealed material involved "the court's administration of the jury in this case" and would be unsealed when the trial ends.
One bench conference would remain sealed, Ellis said, "because I don't want to interfere with any ongoing investigation."
A media coalition including The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN and BuzzFeed filed motions requesting sealed discussions and records from the trial to 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."
Earlier in the day, Ellis said he was open to scrutiny. "A thirsty press is essential to a free country," he said.
The financial fraud trial is the first courtroom test of the Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller. And while the case doesn't involve allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination by the Trump campaign, it has been closely watched by Trump.
Trump on Friday issued a fresh defense of Manafort and called him a "very good person."
"I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad," Trump told reporters at the White House.
"When you look at what's going on, I think it's a very sad day for our country," he said. "He worked for me for a very short period of time. But you know what, he happens to be a very good person and I think it's very sad what they've done to Paul Manafort."
Trump declined to comment on whether he would pardon his former campaign chairman.
Manafort faces 18 charges of tax and bank fraud. Prosecutors say he hid millions of dollars from the Internal Revenue Service in overseas bank accounts and then lied to banks to obtain multimillion-dollar loans.
On Thursday, as the jury of six women and six men neared the end of its first day of deliberations, it sent a note to the judge asking for technical answers to legal issues raised by Manafort's lawyers.
Two of the questions sought definitions of laws or technical terms. They also asked the judge to define "reasonable doubt."
On Friday, the jury's questions to the judge suggested they may trip over at least four of the 18 counts against Manafort. He's accused of failing to file foreign bank account reports for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
U.S. taxpayers must file foreign bank account reports if they had financial interests in and authority over accounts in foreign countries valued at more than $10,000. Taxpayers must file reports separately from their tax returns. Manafort faces five counts of filing false tax returns that failed to disclose his foreign accounts and understated income.
Prosecutors said Manafort owned and controlled 31 foreign accounts and that more than $60 million flowed through them from 2010 to 2014. But defense lawyers argued that prosecutors failed to prove that Manafort controlled those accounts, with names like Global Highway Limited, Leviathan Advisors Limited and Lucicle Consultants Limited.
The jurors asked whether someone is required to file foreign bank account reports if he owns less than 50 percent of an account and doesn't have signature authority but is authorized to disburse funds. That suggests that jurors are wrestling with how to apply the law's complex requirements to the murky structures set up by Manafort's law firm in Cyprus.
The Justice Department rarely tries to prove criminal foreign account report violations at trial. Instead, it forced thousands of U.S. taxpayers to pay large civil penalties during a crackdown over the past decade on offshore tax evasion, primarily in Switzerland.
A pioneer in the Justice Department's use of foreign bank account reports penalties against taxpayers was Kevin Downing, who's now in private practice and Manafort's lead lawyer.
Manafort faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted. He also faces a second trial next month in Washington, D.C., on charges that he failed to register as a lobbyist for the Ukraine government and conspired to tamper with witnesses in that case.
Information for this article was contributed by Rachel Weiner, Lynh Bui, Tom Jackman and Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post; by Matthew Barakat, Stephen Braun, Jeff Horwitz, Darlene Superville and Anne Flaherty of The Associated Press; and by David Voreacos, Andrew Harris, Neil Weinberg and Daniel Flatley of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 08/18/2018
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