Manafort trial judge says he has received threats and fears for safety of jurors

Manafort trial judge says he has received threats and fears for safety of jurors
Paul Manafort

The judge in former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's fraud trial has refused to release the names of jurors, saying he has received threats and fears for their safety as well.

US District Judge TS Ellis III revealed his concerns in explaining why he does not intend to make jurors' names public at the end of the trial, now in the second day of jury deliberations.

A coalition of media organisations filed a motion requesting the names of jurors, as well as access to sealed transcripts of bench conferences that have occurred during the three-week trial.

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

Judge Ellis said during a hearing on Friday afternoon he is concerned for the "peace and safety of the jurors".

"I've received criticism and threats," Judge Ellis said. "I imagine they would, too."

The judge said he is currently under the protection of US marshals.

He declined to delve into specifics but said he has been taken aback by the level of interest in the trial.

President Donald Trump issued a fresh defence of Manafort, calling him a "very good person".

Manafort is accused of hiding from the IRS millions that he made advising Russia-backed politicians in Ukraine, and then lying to banks to get loans when the money dried up.

He faces 18 felony counts on tax evasion and bank fraud.

"I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad," Mr 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."

The financial fraud trial is the first courtroom test of the ongoing Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

While allegations of collusion are still being investigated, evidence of bank fraud and tax evasion unearthed during the probe has cast doubt on the integrity of Mr Trump's closest advisers during the campaign.

But Manafort's fate was far from clear.

The case calls on the dozen jurors to follow the complexities of foreign bank accounts and shell companies, loan regulations and tax rules.

It exposed details about the lavish lifestyle of the onetime political insider, including a 15,000 dollar jacket made of ostrich leather and 900,000 dollars spent at a boutique retailer in New York via international wire transfer.

The jury ended its first day of deliberations with a series of questions to the judge, including a request to "redefine" reasonable doubt.

The questions came after roughly seven hours of deliberation, delivered in a handwritten note to Judge Ellis.

Along with the question on reasonable doubt, the jury asked about the list of exhibits, rules for reporting foreign bank accounts and the definition of "shelf companies", a term used during the trial to describe some of the foreign companies used by Manafort.

Judge Ellis told the jurors they need to rely on their collective memory of the evidence to answer most questions.

As for reasonable doubt, he described it as "a doubt based on reason" and told jurors it does not require proof "beyond all doubt".

Manafort's defence countered that he was not culpable because he left the particulars of his finances to others.

"When you follow the trail of Mr Manafort's money, it is littered with lies," prosecutor Greg Andres said in his final argument earlier this week.

In his defence, Manafort's lawyers told jurors to question the entirety of the prosecution's case as they sought to tarnish the credibility of Manafort's longtime protege - and government witness - Rick Gates.

Prosecutors say Manafort earned some 60 million dollars consulting for the Russia-backed political party in Ukraine, and hid at least 16 million dollars in income from the IRS between 2010 and 2014.

They say Manafort declared only some of his foreign income on his federal income tax returns and repeatedly failed to disclose millions of dollars that streamed into the US to pay for luxury items, services and property.

PA

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