Defense lawyers for Paul Manafort are asking a federal judge to transfer his Washington, D.C. trial to Roanoke, Virginia, with a few weeks to go before the September trial kicks off.
Manafort’s attorneys requested the change of venue in a motion filed Wednesday morning with U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., citing pretrial publicity—namely, “unrelenting news coverage” of Manafort—as a reason for the request.
“Mr. Manafort’s legal issues and the attendant daily media coverage have become theatre in the continuing controversy surrounding President Donald Trump and his election,” the filing read. “This controversy continues to engender strong partisans on all sides of every issue. As a result, it is difficult, if not impossible, to divorce the issues in this case from the political views of potential jurors.”
The media attention is “most intense in and around Washington, D.C.,” they added.
The lawyers also pointed to the strong liberal leanings of D.C. to argue in favor of transferring Manafort’s trial to Roanoke. In Washington, D.C., 91 percent of voters went for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, in the 2016 presidential election, while only around 4 percent voted for Trump.
About 57 percent of voters in the city of Roanoke broke in favor of Clinton, with nearly 38 percent going for Trump, according to the Associated Press. The rest of Roanoke County, as well as most of the counties in the Western District, went for Trump.
“This split is more balanced in other places such as Roanoke, Virginia, located in the Western District of Virginia,” Manafort’s legal team wrote.
Manafort, the first individual to force special counsel Robert Mueller III’s prosecutors to go to trial, is fighting charges in the District that he conspired to launder money, tampered with witnesses and failed to disclose his past foreign lobbying work in Ukraine.
A federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, last week found the former Trump campaign chairman guilty of eight tax and bank fraud counts, including failing to disclose foreign bank accounts for one year.
Richard Westling, one of Manafort’s attorneys, previewed the motion to move the location of the trial during a court hearing on Tuesday. Although the judge indicated she would not prejudge any filing, she initially appeared skeptical of the request. She noted that the publicity was nationwide, not just limited to the nation’s capital.
“Where do you want to go?” Jackson asked Westling.
“I don’t know if I have an answer to that, judge,” Westling said.
Before Manafort’s trial in Alexandria, located in the Eastern District of Virginia, went underway, his legal team also made a push to transfer the matter to Roanoke. Judge T.S. Ellis III, who oversaw the trial last month, denied that motion.
The trial in Washington, D.C., should it proceed, is set to begin with jury selection on Sept.17. Lawyers will deliver opening arguments a week later, on Sept. 24.
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