Former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has reportedly scuttled his own deal to secure release from home confinement under a deal Manafort with prosecutors. Prosecutors learned (from an unspecified source) that Manafort was working with a ghostwriter on an opinion piece on his case. The second man reportedly had ties to Russian intelligence — hardly ideal for a man at the center of the Russian investigation. The work was deemed to be in violation of a court order for all parties to refrain from “trying the case in the press.” However, the order raises a long-standing question of the need and constitutionality of orders limiting the free speech of defendants and counsel. While once the exception, gag orders have become the rule with many judges. Yet, Manafort is presumed innocent and the order prevents him from responding to those questioning his loyalty and honesty.
According to court documents, Manafort was working on an editorial on his work in Ukraine with a person “who is currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service.” It is not clear what is meant by such “ties”. However, Manafort is charged not with espionage but tax fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.
Under the agreement, Manafort would have surrendered assets including real estate valued at a $8 million and life insurance policies valued at $4.5m. However, his work on the oped was deemed as “an intention to violate or circumvent the court’s existing orders, at a time one would expect particularly scrupulous adherence.”
This however brings us again to the central point that Manafort has not been convicted of any crime and wants to speak or write publicly in his own defense. Courts now routinely strip defendants of their free speech rights in the interests of protecting the potential jurors from influence. Yet, it means that a citizen is denied free speech rights when they are most in need for them — to defend their name and to oppose the government’s actions.
As I previously mentioned, Manafort has long had a reputation in Washington for suspicious dealings. However, statements of this kind are precisely why he should not be denied the ability to rebut them publicly.
What do you think?