U.S. judge agrees five Manafort trial witnesses may testify with immunity

By Sarah N. Lynch ALEXANDRIA, Va

Reuters July 24, 2018 00:07:52 IST
U.S. judge agrees five Manafort trial witnesses may testify with immunity

US judge agrees five Manafort trial witnesses may testify with immunity

By Sarah N. Lynch

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Reuters) - A U.S. judge said he would rule later on Monday on whether to delay the criminal trial of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and he would make public the identity of five witnesses granted immunity to testify.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III also said the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller must provide a list of about 30 witnesses to lawyers for Manafort, who had sought a delay in his criminal trial scheduled to start this week on bank and tax fraud charges.

Manafort, a long-time Republican operative and businessman, is a target of Mueller's investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The trial scheduled to start on Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia involves 16 counts including bank and tax fraud and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

The charges largely pre-date the five months he worked on the Trump team in 2016, some of them as campaign chairman.

None of the charges relate to possible coordination with Russian officials by members of the Trump campaign, which is part of Mueller's investigation. The Kremlin denies election interference and Trump denies collusion.

Ellis said he had conferred with prosecutors and agreed to compel five anonymous witnesses to testify at the trial, and Mueller's office has agreed to grant them immunity from prosecution.

Until now, prosecutors have kept the identity of the five witnesses under seal to protect them.

"I'm going to take the seal off" the court docket, Ellis said on Monday.

Manafort faces a second criminal trial in Washington in September on related charges, including witness tampering, in connection with lobbying work he performed for the pro-Russia Ukrainian government. His lawyers have argued they need more time to prepare for both cases.

Mueller's probe has led to multiple indictments and several guilty pleas from other Trump associates, including Rick Gates, a former Trump deputy campaign chairman who worked with Manafort. Alex Van der Zwaan, a lawyer who once worked closely with Manafort and Gates, has also pleaded guilty and has been sentenced.

Though the charges did not reference the Trump campaign or the 2016 election, legal experts have said they put more pressure on former Trump aides to cooperate with Mueller as he looks into whether Russia tried to influence the election in favor of Trump by hacking the emails of leading Democrats and distributing disinformation and propaganda online.

Ellis has questioned Mueller's probe and said Manafort's indictment appeared aimed at leveraging him to provide information on Trump.

Mueller's team has outlined an extensive list of evidence to present at the Virginia trial, submitting a 21-page list detailing more than 400 exhibits that include scores of bank records, emails and photographs, among other documents.

Manafort's team has sought to exclude some of the exhibits, arguing that they are irrelevant and would prejudice the jurors, but the U.S. Special Counsel's Office said the documents are pertinent to the case.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Susan Heavey and John Whitesides; Editing by Susan Thomas and Grant McCool)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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