WASHINGTON — A juror in Paul Manafort's case reported during the trial that another juror made comments about the weakness of the former Trump campaign chairman's defense, prompting defense lawyers to make an unsuccessful request for a mistrial, according to transcripts unsealed Wednesday.
The transcripts reveal the reasons for a lengthy secret hearing held during the middle of Manafort's trial, which been sealed until after the conclusion of the longtime political consultant's trial this week. Manafort was convicted Tuesday on eight criminal counts. Jurors deadlocked on 10 other charges.
The disclosure by one juror of another juror's comments on the ninth day of Manafort's trial prompted U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to question jurors about whether the comment would affect their ability to make a fair and impartial verdict. Juror names are redacted in the transcripts, and Ellis has placed them under seal.
Manafort's defense team moved for a mistrial during sealed proceedings, citing juror comments. But Ellis denied the motion, saying that after considering the circumstances carefully, a mistrial wasn't warranted.
Defense lawyers did not press the issue in public, and after the jury's verdict, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing took care to praise Ellis for a fair trial and the jury "for their very long and hard-fought deliberations."
According to the transcript, the juror who reported the comment said she heard another juror say she didn't believe Manafort had much of a case to present, a comment she felt "crossed the line." The juror reported hearing other jurors talk about the case despite the judge's admonishments not to do so. Jurors are not supposed to discuss the case until they've heard all the evidence and begin deliberations.
The judge also questioned the juror accused of making the comment. That juror denied having made up her mind and said she had only been referring to how "it would be really hard to have to defend against" the government's case.
The issue held up for the trial for hours as the the judge huddled privately with lawyers and the bailiff and at one point left the courtroom and headed toward the jury room. Once court returned to session, Ellis reminded jurors several times to not discuss the case at all.
In a separate bench conference four days after the juror's remarks were reported, the judge and the lawyers discussed how and whether to question each individual juror to ensure they could keep an open mind for the rest of the trial.
Prosecutor Uzo Asonye cautioned that such an effort could turn into a "fishing expedition." But defense lawyer Kevin Downing warned that Manafort's right to a fair trial was at stake and pushed for thorough questioning, saying "we obviously would not agree that it's a small thing" to have "jurors making comments on the weakness of the defense. "
For his part, Ellis said he was inclined to question jurors one-by-one about their ability to decide the case fairly.
"Shouldn't I ask those questions if the juror says, yes, I've heard remarks concerning the evidence in this case from me fellow jurors?" Ellis asked aloud. "You mean I'm to ignore that."
The transcript shows that jurors were, in fact, questioned individually by the judge, with Ellis providing repeated assurances by telling them his questions were routine and nothing to be concerned about.
After questioning the jurors, Manafort's defense moved for a mistrial, which Ellis denied. Manafort's defense team also moved to have one of the jurors removed because they believed she had been untruthful during her questioning. Prosecutors objected, and Ellis decided there wasn't reason to strike her.
The jury ultimately convicted Manafort of five counts of filing false tax returns, one count of failing to report a foreign bank account and two counts of bank fraud. They deadlocked on other foreign bank account charges and bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy charges.
Separately Wednesday, special counsel Robert Mueller's team filed in federal court in Washington five previously sealed search warrant applications, including for a hard drive and email accounts, in Manafort's case. The records were among those sought in a public records lawsuit filed by a coalition of media organizations, including The Associated Press.