The jury in the highly publicized criminal tax and bank fraud case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is not under sequester, a fact under scrutiny as jurors settle into their third day of deliberations.
Federal District Judge T.S. Ellis III did not order the six men, six women and four alternates to be sequestered throughout the trial, and even allowed them to recess for the weekend shortly after 5 p.m. on Friday.
At the end of each day, he’s sent them off with the same reminder: Don’t talk to anyone about the case, don’t read the paper or watch the news, and don’t do any research on your own.
The fact that the jury in the Manafort trial — the first test in court for special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors — isn’t sequestered is not necessarily a surprise.
“It’s very rare, it’s very expensive and it’s a huge burden on jurors,” Seth Waxman, who worked for 13 years as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, said of forcing a jury to stay together in a hotel, out of public view, for the duration of a trial.
But the Manafort trial is unusual — in part because the president of the United States has taken a keen interest in its outcome.
On Twitter, Trump suggested Manafort is being treated worse than American gangster Al Capone and called his former campaign chairman a “good guy” when speaking to the press. Trump has also regularly derided the Mueller investigation, which is examining whether there was collusion between his campaign and Moscow, as a politically driven “witch hunt.”
Such publicity could make it difficult for jurors on the trial to ignore what’s being said about it.
It also casts a political spotlight on the trial, creating a sense that a verdict of guilty would be a partisan blow to the president.
“In this particular case it’s highly unusual these people are not sequestered,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.
“With everyone talking about it, myself included and our president, it’s hard for these jurors to keep eyes and ears closed and not pick up comments on the peripheral.”
Waxman said Trump is paying close attention because he has a stake in the case.
“My opinion is this whole trial is 95 percent about flipping Manafort. Manafort was one of three key people in the Trump Tower meeting,” Waxman said, referring to the meeting between Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer.
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