Politics

3 Reasons Manafort Jurors Are Still Deliberating

Deliberations in trial of ex-Trump campaign aide will pick up again Monday

A protester is seen on July 31 outside the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., where President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is standing trial. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The trial of former Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort will continue next week after the judge dismissed jurors early Friday before they could issue a verdict.

The jury has now spent two days deliberating whether Manafort is guilty or innocent on none, some or all of the 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud he faces.

The six men and six women on the panel must reach a consensus on each charge before breaking from the jury room for good.

Through roughly 14 hours of deliberation, they’ve been unable to do that.

But that’s not unusual. Here are three things to keep in mind over the weekend as they pick up their work again Monday afternoon:

1. This case contains 18 tax evasion and bank fraud counts — and the jury must come to a conclusion on all 18

Not only are prosecutors trying Manafort for 18 counts — an unusually high total — but their case involves complex tax and bank loan laws.

Moreover, the jury was selected from a pool of Manafort’s peers in Eastern Virginia, not a group of accountants and bankers who would be expected to have more familiarity with the laws prosecutors have alleged he broke.

No one should have harbored illusions about a quick turnaround from the jury.

“Because this is a ‘paper case’ with a number of charges, complicated financial records, and a lay jury not selected for its understanding of international financial transactions, we would expect a medium-length to long deliberation process — at least a couple days — simply for the jurors to work through all the evidence and discuss each charge separately,” lawyer and professor Seth Abramson said in an email Friday.

“Quick verdicts are not generally associated with lengthy, document-heavy white-collar prosecutions,” he said.

One former Justice Department prosecutor who has tried similar cases told Roll Call the general rule of thumb for a favorable timeline for jury deliberation is one day per week of trial proceedings.

Prosecutors rested their case after two weeks of evidence and witness testimony.

But the high number of charges and the Eastern Virginia District court’s notoriously quick pace of proceedings — it’s called the “rocket docket” for a reason, and the statue adorning the courthouse’s front facade bears the legend, “Justice delayed is justice denied” — could jettison that rule of thumb.

“You have to come to a conclusion on all 18,” the former prosecutor said.

Even if the jury has reached a decision on 17 of the counts, they could be stuck for hours or even days on the final one.

“In some cases, juries reach quick decisions on nearly all the charges but take a long time to decide what to do with a final charge or two that they think may not have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” Abramson said.

Watch: What I Saw That You Couldn't See at the Manafort Trial, Week 2

2. Questions about ‘reasonable doubt’ are common

Jurors asked the judge Thursday to redefine “reasonable doubt” for them.

“That’s been the most frequent question of my career,” said former federal prosecutor Harry Litman, who appeared before Ellis while he was with the Justice Department for roughly five years in the mid-1990s.

Abramson agreed, saying it was “fairly common” for a jury to seek a crystal-clear answer on what constitutes reasonable doubt.

Prosecutors in the U.S. bear the burden of proving a defendant’s guilt.

The question Thursday does not necessarily indicate that the jury as a whole is grappling with doubts about Manafort’s guilt and whether those doubts are reasonable.

“It could just be a question that one person has,” Abramson said

The government is not, Ellis reminded the jury, required to prove Manafort’s innocence “beyond all possible doubt.”

But if any juror has a reasonable doubt — “a doubt based in reason,” Ellis said — then Manafort’s presumption of innocence would still be intact.

The jury had three other questions for the judge Thursday before they recessed for the day, including one requesting that they be given a document that matched the prosecution’s evidence exhibits to the relevant charges. Ellis denied the request, saying the jurors needed to rely on their own judgement of which documents related to certain counts.

Nevertheless, the questions Thursday “reflected a pretty meticulous jury going through the charges top to bottom,” Litman said.

That kind of focused, charge-by-charge deliberation method could result in a “three-, four-, five-day process,” he speculated.

Jurors submitted their questions roughly 10 minutes before 5 p.m. Thursday.

That the jurors gave the judge their questions at the end of the day as opposed to at various intervals before suggests cohesion because they were able to draft the questions, set them aside, and move on to other matters throughout the day, Litman said.

3. Jurors are likely being more careful than usual

It’s just too early to read much into whether the Manafort trial jury has reached any sort of impasse on one or more charges, every expert Roll Call spoke to Friday said.

There won’t be any “tangible indication” of a holdout situation until we get to Tuesday or Wednesday, Litman said.

Another factor that could contribute to an elongated deliberation process is whether the jury is aware of the political magnitude of their decision.

Most of the jurors were selected from a highly educated pool of potential panelists, many of whom undoubtedly were aware that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team was prosecuting the case and that Manafort is a figure of considerable political clout with ties to a highly divisive president.

“If any or all of the jurors have a sense of the public interest in this case, they are likely to be even more careful and deliberative in their review of the evidence than usual,” Abramson said.

“We should not take anything about the current length of the deliberations to suggest that Manafort will or will not be convicted on all or most of the charges he faces,” Abramson said.

If the trial bleeds into the later half of next week, droplets of sweat may begin to seep from prosecutors’ temples.

“The longer it goes, the more sense you get that there’s some trouble afoot,” the former DOJ prosecutor said.

But for now, Mueller’s team, which is staying at The Westin Alexandria across the street alongside a number of news outlets, should rest in relative comfort.

“I’m not [lead prosecutor] Greg Andres, so it’s easy for me to say he doesn’t need to bite his nails right now,” Litman said. “But he doesn’t need to be biting his nails yet.”

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