President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort Jr., will stand trial in mid-September in Washington on charges stemming from the Russia investigation, meaning the high-profile case will overlap with the midterm elections that could change control of Congress.
The political impact is difficult to predict, but it could aid Democrats eager to keep the focus on what U.S. intelligence officials have warned will be a renewed Russian effort to meddle in the U.S. campaign this fall.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Wednesday set a trial date of Sept. 17 on five charges filed by prosecutors investigating a Russian plot to influence the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump’s associates during or after the campaign.
Manafort faces a second federal trial in northern Virginia, where he was has been charged with 18 additional counts of bank fraud, money laundering and tax fraud. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Manafort, a longtime Republican senior strategist, was a prominent Washington lobbyist with a lucrative roster of high-powered foreign clients before he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016. He left the campaign that August, after Trump had secured the Republican nomination, when his work for the former Kremlin-backed government in Ukraine came under scrutiny.
He is the only American charged in the sprawling Russia investigation who has pleaded not guilty and thus will stand trial. Five others have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in plea agreements. Charges also have been filed against 13 Russians, but they remain fugitives.
Manafort’s former business partner, Richard Gates, initially faced most of the same charges as Manafort. But last week he pleaded guilty to two charges — lying to the FBI and conspiracy — and agreed to cooperate with the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
On Monday, federal prosecutors moved to dismiss nearly two dozen other charges that Gates faced in Virginia.
Appearing in court with his wife and his attorney, Manafort pleaded not guilty to five counts that prosecutors filed last week, superseding an earlier indictment. The new case included charges related to not properly disclosing his work as a lobbyist for a political faction in Ukraine.
Jackson, who has issued a gag order in the case, scolded Manafort for issuing a public statement after Gates pleaded guilty. In it, Manafort said Gates’ decision “does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges in the indictment against me.”
“I can certainly understand the impulse to not let that go by without asserting your innocence,” Jackson said. She said she would not sanction Manafort even though she believed his public statement had violated her order.
Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, said he would file a legal brief questioning the scope of the judge’s gag order.
“Right now, the order stands,” Jackson said.
Greg Andres, a prosecutor on Mueller’s team, told the court that Manafort had not agreed to an offer to consolidate the charges he faces in Washington and Virginia into one jurisdiction. Manafort is scheduled to be arraigned in Virginia on Friday.
Jackson said the two cases have some overlap, and could create complications for scheduling and potentially conflicting rulings on what evidence can be used during the trial.
“I think the burden is going to fall heaviest on the defense” for trial preparations, she said.
Manafort has filed a separate civil lawsuit that asserts that the special counsel has overstepped his legal writ by pursuing lobbying, bank fraud and other crimes not related to Russia’s efforts to steer the election to Trump.
The Justice Department order appointing Mueller last May was fairly broad, however, and said Mueller could prosecute “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”