Ex-Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort boasts of being treated like a 'VIP' in jail — but judge says he can't stay there

Key Points
  • Former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort has boasted "he is being treated like a 'VIP' " in jail, where he is "not required to wear a prison uniform" as he awaits his upcoming trial, according to a new court filing.
  • Manafort is seeking to postpone a federal trial in Virginia until after a federal trial in Washington.
  • Both cases relate to charges linked to his consulting work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives for arraignment on a third superseding indictment against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of witness tampering, at U.S. District Court in Washington, June 15, 2018.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Former Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort has boasted "he is being treated like a 'VIP'" in a Virginia jail as he awaits his upcoming trials on federal criminal charges — but he will be leaving that lockup after a judge rejected his request to avoid transfer to another jail, according to new court filings.

Prosecutors on special counsel Robert Mueller's team said in one of those filings that Manafort, who has been in a Warsaw, Va., jail since mid-June after being accused of trying to tamper with witnesses, has gotten "unique privileges" in that lockup.

Those fringe benefits include "a private, self-contained living unit" that is bigger than his fellow inmates' spaces, "his own bathroom and shower facility, his own personal telephone, and his own workplace to prepare for trial," prosecutors say in the filing. And he isn't required to wear a prison uniform, either, the filing said.

"Manafort also possesses a personal laptop that he is permitted to use in his unit" to review materials for his upcoming trials, according to the filing, which opposes a bid by Manafort's lawyers to delay the start of his first trial, in Alexandria, Va., until after he is tried in September in Washington, DC., on separate federal charges.

And he has even developed "a workaround" to the jail's ban on sending or receiving emails by reading and composing emails on another laptop computer that is shuttled into the jail by his defense team, which is then used to transmit the emails after it is taken out of the jail, prosecutors said.

But Manafort will have to leave the Warsaw jail and be housed in a jail in Alexandria, Va., where his first trial is scheduled to start July 25, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said in an order made public Wednesday.

Ellis on Tuesday had ordered Manafort to be transferred to Alexandria after complaints by his defense lawyers that it was impossible for them and Manafort to properly prepare for his trial because of the distance to the Warsaw jail, and the fact that he was being kept in "solitary confinement" there for 23 hours per day.

After Ellis' transfer order, Manafort's lawyers asked him to be allowed to stay in Warsaw, citing concerns about his safety. But Ellis brushed aside those worries in a new order, saying that officials at the federal lockup in Alexandria have experience handling inmates such as "foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors."

Ellis also wrote that "it is suprising and confusing" when defense counsel identifies a problem "and then opposes the most logical solution to that program."

"The dissonance between defendant’s motion to continue and motion opposing transfer to Alexandria Detention Center cannot be easily explained or resolved,” he wrote.

Mueller opposes trial postponement

Manafort faces cumulative charges of conspiracy, money laundering, bank fraud, tax crimes, making false statements and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal. The charges relate to consulting and lobbying work he did on behalf of pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

Manafort's lawyers, who did not immediately return a request for comment by CNBC, are arguing that his trial in Virginia should be postponed because his recent incarceration makes it difficult or impossible for him to prepare for the case.

Prosecutors from Mueller's team suggest in their filing that "other reasons" may be behind Manafort's desire for the trial switch.

In a jailhouse call with an unidentified person, who did not believe the Washington case was more favorable to him, Manafort discussed going to trial first in Washington and contended that the listener should "think about how it'll play elsewhere ... There is a strategy to it, even in failure, but there's a hope to it," prosecutors noted in their filin

The 69-year-old veteran Republican strategist had been released on $10 million bond, but confined to his home, after the first set of federal charges were lodged against him last fall.

But his bond was revoked and he was ordered jailed June 15 after Mueller accused him of trying to tamper with two potential witnesses at his upcoming trials.

In a filing last week appealing his bond revocation, Manafort's lawyers had complained that he is "locked in his cell for at least 23 hours per day" in "solitary confinement" at a facility about two hours from his legal team, which "makes it effectively impossible for Mr. Manafort to prepare" for the trials.

Manafort's remark about being treated like a very important person in jail was heard by prosecutors on a monitored phone call, according to their filing Wednesday.

Contradicting the defense's claims

Prosecutors also used recorded phone conversations and jailhouse visitor records to contradict claims by Manafort's lawyers that he is being hampered from preparing quickly and adequately for his first trial.

In one call cited by the filing, Manafort told another person, "I have gone through all the discovery now," referring to documents and other evidence that could be used at the trial.

Prosecutors also noted that he has had more than 100 phone calls with his lawyers in the past three weeks, and more than 200 other calls. Manafort has more than 12 hours per day to speak with his lawyers on the phone, the filing said.

And his defense team has visited him multiple times during each of those weeks, when they had access to a workroom at the jail from between 8:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day, prosecutors said.

Elsewhere in their filing, prosecutors said that the "vast bulk" of material produced for Manafort's review by the prosecution since he was jailed — which totals more than 32,000 documents — were "from a bookkeeping service ... that works for Manafort, who has had access to this material long before the government did."

Prosecutors said the other documents can easily be reviewed by Manafort and his team before the July 25 trial date.

Mueller's team also questioned Manafort's argument that the Virginia trial should occur after the Washington case is tried.

They said that if he was actually unable to prepare adequately for his trial because of being jailed, "Manafort would have sought to adjourn both trials, here and the D.C. case, not just seek to reverse the order of the trials." Prosecutors noted that he had previously sought such a switch.