Collusion probe off limits in 2nd Manafort trial, U.S. judge rules
Judge says Mueller investigation 'wholly irrelevant to the charges in this case'
The federal judge overseeing the second trial of Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump's one-time campaign chair, ruled on Wednesday that a federal investigation of possible collusion between the campaign and Russia cannot be discussed during the trial.
The collusion investigation, which is being led by special counsel Robert Mueller, is "wholly irrelevant to the charges in this case," Judge Amy Berman Jackson said during a pre-trial hearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Manafort was convicted last month of charges including bank and tax fraud. Jackson said on Wednesday that while prosecutors may present evidence used in the first trial, the jury will not be allowed to hear about Manafort's prior conviction.
She also said she plans to deny a request by Manafort's defence attorneys to move the trial to a different court, saying that concerns about the political affiliation of members of the jury pool in Washington, D.C., is "not a lawful basis" for a venue transfer.
During the trial, which begins with jury selection on Sept. 17 and opening arguments Sept. 24, Manafort will face seven counts, including conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to defraud the United States, failing to register as a foreign agent for the pro-Russia Ukrainian government, making false statements and witness tampering.
2nd trial follows August conviction
Manafort, a long-time Washington lobbyist who was with Trump's campaign from March through August in 2016, was convicted on Aug. 21 on eight charges in a federal court in Alexandria, Va., related to bank fraud, tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.
The jury deadlocked on 10 other charges and prosecutors have not announced if they will seek to retry him on those.
The decision by Jackson to exclude testimony about the Russia collusion investigation was not a surprise. None of the charges are related to alleged collusion and Judge T.S. Ellis made a similar ruling ahead of the Virginia trial as part of an effort to keep politics out of the proceedings.
Discussion of Manafort's role in the Trump campaign will come up only in connection with alleged false statements he made about his foreign lobbying activities after critical media reports surfaced during the end of his stint as campaign chair, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Prosecutors also indicated they do not yet know whether they plan to call as a witness Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates, who has pleaded guilty in the Mueller probe.
During the first trial, Gates testified he helped Manafort doctor financial statements, hide foreign income and cheat on his taxes. The jury decided to disregard his testimony and focus on the documented evidence, a juror said.
Manafort's lawyers revealed they are working to retain an expert witness who may testify at trial. They did not call witnesses at his first trial.