Attorneys for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort have asked a federal judge for a venue change on the rather dubious grounds that Alexandria Virginia is simply too liberal. Manafort wants a jury in Roanoke where there are more Republicans. It is an exceptionally weak motion and would be unprecedented to shift jurisdiction based on the political views of the local electorate as opposed to using voir dire to spot bias. Attorneys Kevin Downing, Thomas Zehnle and Jay Nanavati told the “It is not a stretch to expect that voters who supported Secretary Clinton would be predisposed against Mr. Manafort or that voters who supported President Donald Trump would be less inclined toward the Special Counsel.” If it is “not a stretch” politically, it is a stretch legally. In fairness to the defense time, however, it was Judge T.S. Ellis III who raised the possibility of a venue change to Roanoke or Richmond. Ellis however has a reputation for making controversial statements from the bench. In most courts, I would expect this motion to be denied fairly quickly.
Manafort calls the prosecution has “theatre” and warns “It is difficult, if not impossible, to divorce the issues in this case from the political views of potential jurors.” That is what voir dire and bench instructions are designed to combat.
My experience with venue arguments is not good. It seems to less and less common. There was a time when local saturation of news what be sufficient. It is used today primarily where the crime traumatized a localized area as with the Beltway sniper case.
Alexandria voters gave Hillary Clinton a 2-1 advantage in the presidential election — the inverse of much of the rest of Virginia. However, Trump and his campaign have little to do with these charges and should not play any significant role, if any role, in the questioning.
Indeed, in a statement that supports President Trump and his supporters who have criticized the Special Counsel investigation, the prosecutors confirmed that this has little to do with the original purpose of the investigation: “The government does not intend to present at trial evidence or argument concerning collusion with the Russian government.”
I previously wrote how the transfer of the Michael Cohen investigation to the Southern District of New York made no sense when Mueller and Rosenstein wanted the Special Counsel to prosecute Manafort for all of these unrelated crimes. Ellis also raised this issue and has said that the Special Counsel was only using Manafort to get at Trump.
It is the Manafort team arguing that the trial is tied to the election:
“The government intends to present evidence that although various Lender D employees identified serious issues with the defendant’s loan application, the senior executive at Lender D interceded in the process and approved the loan” . . . [the executive]
“expressed interest in working on the Trump campaign, told (Manafort) about his interest, and eventually secured a position advising the Trump campaign.”
That still strikes me as remarkably thin for a motion for a venue change.
What do you think?