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Judge worried Manafort could pose flight risk

Judge worried Manafort could pose flight risk
© Greg Nash

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Thursday that President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortFormer FBI agent sentenced to 4 years in jail for leaking to reporter The Hill's 12:30 Report — Mnuchin won't attend Saudi conference | Pompeo advises giving Saudis 'few more days' to investigate | Trump threatens military action over caravan Mueller assembles team of cooperators in Russian probe MORE could be a flight risk as she mulled requests to loosen the conditions of his house arrest.

The judge set a bond hearing for Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. to discuss a request made by Manafort’s lawyers to remove a GPS monitoring system and to allow him to move about more freely.

“The charges are significant and his ties and assets abroad are significant so I have concerns about flight,” Berman said.

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The legal teams are aiming for the trial to begin in April of 2018, pending the judge's schedule.

Until then, Manafort is under house arrest with $10 million unsecured bond that would become due should he violate court orders or flee the country.

The federal government has asked for an enhanced bail package that includes real estate. Jackson signaled that she does not believe the current bond is a sufficient deterrent to flight after federal prosecutors argued that Manafort had a “history of deception” and deep ties to foreign governments due to his lobbying work.

“I am very concerned that the bond is not sufficient or that a bond without monitoring would be sufficient,” Jackson said. “We don’t need to have them under lock and key 24-7, but if they leave we need to know where they went.”

Manafort had three U.S. passports, although his lawyers said this is common for individuals that travel abroad frequently. He has surrendered the passports to the FBI.

Manafort’s lawyers said they believed the house arrest would only be temporary. They are asking for the GPS monitoring system to be removed and for a curfew to be imposed, rather than blanket house arrest that only allows him to attend religious services or leave the house in the event of a medical emergency.

The former Trump campaign chief's business associate Rick Gates is similarly under house arrest and wearing an ankle monitoring bracelet. Prosecutors said he had turned over one of his passports but that another remained outstanding. Gates’s attorneys said they would turn it over Monday.

Manafort and Gates appeared at Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse in Washington, D.C., just blocks from the Capitol for their first hearing since the charges were laid out against them by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team on Monday.

They are charged with illegal foreign lobbying, bank fraud and tax evasion.

Manafort wore a burgundy tie and a dark suit and sat easily in his chair, smiling and laughing at times with his attorneys as they waited for the hearing to begin.

Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing argued in a filing on Thursday that the allegations against him – which include conspiracy against the United States – had been “embellished.”

They cast him as a family man with strong ties to the community and someone who does not pose a serious flight risk, noting that he had not fled the country despite federal prosecutors informing him in August that he would be indicted.

Still, the judge said she was unsure whether Manafort and Gates were aware at the time of the seriousness of the charges that would be brought against them.

Gates is represented by a public defender and on Thursday requested an exception to his house arrest so he could attend his children’s sports games over the weekend. The prosecution – represented on Thursday by Andrew Weissmann and Greg Andres – did not object.

Jackson is taking measures to ensure the trial does not turn into a spectacle.

Noting the high-profile nature of the investigation, the judge warned lawyers on both sides against leaking to the press.

“This is a criminal trial, not a public relations campaign,” she said.

Updated: 3:35 p.m.