Judge delays criminal trial for Paul Manafort until next week

A U.S. judge has delayed the criminal trial of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort until next week, and made public the identity of five witnesses granted immunity to testify.

Trial for former Trump campaign manager was to start Wednesday on bank and tax fraud charges

A judge has delayed the criminal trial for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

A U.S. judge on Monday delayed the criminal trial of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort until next week, and made 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 Manafort's lawyers, who had sought the delay in his criminal trial.

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 bank and tax fraud charges.

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

According to court filings unsealed by Ellis on Monday, Mueller had requested immunity for Dennis Raico, Cindy Laporta, Conor O'Brien, Donna Duggan and James Brennan. They are all financial professionals who may have gained some knowledge of Manafort's business dealings.

The Manafort charges largely predate the five months Manafort worked on the Trump team in 2016, some of them as campaign chairman.

Prosecutors said on Monday the only references to Manafort's role in the campaign during the trial would involve a banker who agreed to lend Manafort money in exchange for a role in Trump's campaign.

The banker was not named in open court.

In court on Monday, Ellis asked prosecutors if the banker who lent Manafort money in exchange for a campaign role knew the documents to support the loan were inaccurate. "He did," prosecutor Greg Andres replied.

None of the charges relate to possible co-ordination 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.

Separate trial linked to Russia probe

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 refer to the Trump campaign or the 2016 election, legal experts have said they put more pressure on former Trump aides to co-operate with Mueller as he looks into whether Russia tried to influence the election in favour 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.

Potential jurors in the trial will fill out questionnaires on Tuesday to prepare for jury selection, but Ellis said they should not be asked about their votes in the 2016 election.

"We are not going to inquire into how people voted," Ellis told the lawyers. "People can be fair and impartial no matter who they voted for."

400 trial exhibits

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.

The prosecution turned over 120,000 pages of documents this month as the trial date drew near.

Manafort's defence lawyer Kevin Downing complained on Monday his team did not have enough time to review the records, which contain about 20,000 documents, including accounting records from Manafort's bookkeeping company.

The rest of the remaining records to be reviewed, meanwhile, entail images and photos that were taken from various electronic devices belonging to Gates, Manafort's former business partner.

Uzo Asonye, one of the prosecutors, told the judge Mueller's office believed Manafort had access the entire time to the accounting records.