August 12, 2018

Paul Manafort's trial ran into some delays that caught onlookers by surprise, and fueled plenty of curiosity and rumors as to what caused them. The other point of particular interest involved Judge T.S. Ellis agreeing to seal six pages of a sidebar conversation involving Rick Gates. Why were they sealed, and what does that portend for the greater investigation? Nicolle Wallace discussed these things with Joyce Vance and Frank Figliuzzi, and we learned that the delays are probably for boring reasons, and the sealed testimony are probably for really interesting reasons.

As for the delays, which involved numerous sidebars, discussions in the Judge's chambers, discussions with the jurors, and an extremely lengthy lunch period, there was all kinds of speculation about some kind of improper juror behavior going on. Another possibility involved the Judge issuing yet another apology or correction of his own behavior - a harsh rebuke of prosecutors that elicited a formal protest from the lawyers requesting the Judge's own words be stricken or disregarded by the jury. Ultimately, we did not find out what the source of the delay was.

In reality, though, what is unusual is the speed which his trial has been conducted up until this point. Speed is pretty standard according to this Alexandria District Court's "rocket-docket" reputation, though, so what gets noticed are the delays that happen in every trial of any speed.

VANCE: We don't know exactly what was going on, but this really isn't at all unusual for a trial. Sometimes when you get to this point or even earlier on in a case, issues can come up. There can be the need for a lot of back and forth between the judge and the lawyers as they sort out legal issues. And sometimes you can see juries either sitting in a courtroom or back in the jury room wondering what the delay is about because the judge doesn't necessarily share it with them either if it's purely a legal issue about admissible evidence...the judge did give an additional instruction that they are back in the room and listening to evidence, so it looks like the parties agreed the case was ready to move forward.

Frank Figliuzzi agreed this was pretty typical, and that whatever issues caused the delays seemed amicably resolved, so there didn't seem to be much of interest to report.

The second development involved the sealing of a sidebar conversation that took place earlier in the week. According to Politico, "prosecutors handling Manafort’s Virginia trial persuaded Ellis to seal a court transcript of a sidebar conference earlier in the week where Gates’ cooperation with the Mueller team was discussed. Ellis agreed to keep the information under wraps because it could expose confidential aspects of the ongoing inquiry." Joyce Vance found this development fascinating, and indicative that Gates has something much larger to offer Mueller than testimony to convict Manafort.

VANCE: This, I think, is very interesting. We also heard this week that it was possible that Gates wouldn't serve any jail time at all at the end of these proceedings. And you'll remember that he was indicted along with Manafort for the whole kit and kaboodle. So, how do you go from that sort of mess to not serving jail time? I don't think it's just by testifying in the Manafort trial. Frankly, the government didn't really need Gates to prove this case. So, it must be that they're getting assistance from him on something else and that something else is the content of those six sealed pages of the transcript from yesterday. Gates was around for the Republican convention. He may know details, for instance, about how the Republican party platform was softened towards Ukraine. He could know about money donors to the inauguration. He could know about contacts between people involved in the campaign and Russians. So there are a lot of possibilities for what he might be able to narrate. We'll just have to remain curious a little bit longer.


Sigh. Okay, we know. It will be Mueller time when it is Mueller time.

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