Although Paul Manafort is arguably the biggest-named fish nabbed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s year-long investigation into whether Russian officials colluded with the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, prosecutors in Manafort’s trial, which starts Tuesday, have ordered witnesses not to mention the president by name.
Mueller’s team is bringing the case against Manafort, but attorneys want to focus the jury on Manafort’s reported excesses, his alleged ties to Ukrainian government officials, and the crimes for which Manafort was really indicted — tax evasion and bank fraud — and not his campaign activities, ABC News reports.
Prosecutors also fear that potential jurors might be prejudiced by Manafort’s Trump affiliations. The trial is taking place in a heavily Democratic district, and attorneys don’t want Manafort claiming that he was denied a fair trial because jurors see their vote as a way to “resist” President Donald Trump through Paul Manafort.
“The defense doesn’t want to be prejudiced by association with Trump,” one expert told ABC News. “With a northern Virginia jury, they know they may not be kindly disposed to the president.”
The “Trump restriction” is granular and absolute: one witness was even reportedly told not to mention that Manafort has a residence in New York City lest jurors connect him to Trump Tower. Other instructions forbid witnesses from using the words “Russia” and “collusion,” since Manafort’s trial has little to no connection to the central theme of Mueller’s investigation.
Instead, prosecutors hope to focus jurors on Manafort’s business dealings, most of which date from well before the Trump campaign.
Jury selection begins Tuesday. Lawyers hope to begin the trial officially by the end of this week.