Lawyers for Paul Manafort suggested President Donald Trump is making it harder for his ex-campaign boss to get a fair trial as they asked a judge to move his next case on charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller out of a Washington, D.C., federal court.
The lawyers cited the extensive and largely negative publicity the trial has generated for Manafort, as well as a botched tweet by the president about the case.
Manafort is asking that the trial on money laundering and other charges, which is due to begin jury selection on Sept. 17, be transferred more than 200 miles away to U.S. District Court in Roanoke, Virginia.
"A fair trial will be impossible without a change of venue to a more neutral and less media saturated locale," Manafort's lawyers argued in the motion, which was made public Wednesday.
His lawyers also said that Manafort has "become an unwilling player in the larger drama between Mr. Mueller and President Trump" — an association made worse by Trump weighing in on the trial.
Trump has repeatedly blasted Mueller's probe into Russian interefence in the 2016 presidential election, and possible collusion by Trump's campaign, as a "witch hunt."
The defense team also noted that nearly 91 percent of the votes cast in the presidential election in D.C. went to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, with Trump garnering just 4.1 percent of the votes.
"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 Trump would be less inclined toward the Special Counsel," Manafort's lawyers wrote. "This split is more balanced in other places such as Roanoke, Virginia, located in the Western District of Virginia."
The request to move the trial comes a week after Manafort was convicted of eight tax and banking fraud charges after his first trial in Alexandria, Virginia. That case was also lodged by Mueller.
Manafort's lawyers had asked in July that that first trial on bank fraud and tax charges also be moved to Roanoke. That request also had cited negative publicity as the main reason to move the trial. But the request was denied.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson told Manafort's attorneys during a hearing Tuesday that she did not want to prejudge their planned request to move the trial, but also noted that the D.C. federal court has handled high-profile cases in the past.
Jackson also pointed out that a questionnaire for prospective jurors could "enable us to find a fair and impartial jury."
In their motion, the defense lawyers lawyers blamed Trump himself for some of the intense media coverage Manafort has received throughout his legal troubles.
Trump weighed in on the D.C. case after Jackson on June 15 revoked Manafort's $10 million release bond and ordered him to be detained pending his trials. "Wow, what a tough sentence," Trump tweeted at the time.
In their request on Wednesday, Manafort's lawyers noted that Trump's language wrongly suggested that Manafort had been sentenced for committing a crime during that hearing.
"This Court revoked Mr. Manafort's release and remanded him into custody," Manafort's lawyers wrote in their motion.
"This event unleashed a spate of intensely negative news coverage suggesting that Mr. Manafort violated the law. Indeed, even the President's response on Twitter; observed that Mr. Manafort received a 'tough sentence,' incorrectly suggesting that Mr. Manafort had been sentenced for committing a crime."
In fact, Manafort's bail had been revoked after U.S. attorneys filed an indictment alleging that he and Russian citizen Konstantin Kilimnik had attempted to tamper with potential witnesses in the case.
The longtime Republican operative is accused in the Washington case of money laundering, failing to register as a foreign agent and witness tampering.
Both the D.C. case and the one in Virginia relate to consulting work Manafort, 69, did for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, along with his then-associate, Rick Gates.
That work predated the hiring of both men by the presidential campaign of Trump in 2016.
Gates earlier this year pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiracy against the United States after being charged by Mueller along with Manafort.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He is being held without bond in an Alexandria jail.
Mueller is scheduled Wednesday to file paperwork in the Virginia case to inform the judge there whether he intends to retry Manafort on the remaining 11 criminal counts on which jurors were unable to reach a verdict.