Discussion: Judge Orders Manafort Trial Witness List Be Made Public This Week

Legal minds find it implausible Manafort can escape convictions for at least some of the charges against him, in two different courts. Going to trial instead of pleading leads me to believe he thinks otherwise.

A couple years ago I would have thought it unlikely citizens could conduct an armed takeover of a Federal wildlife facility, doing a lot of damage to both the buildings and protected archaeological treasures. Only then to be found not guilty by a jury in the face of a mountain of evidence attesting to their guilt.

Would it surprise me if Manafort walked? Not in the least. Caucasian justice is conducted on a different playing field than other forms of justice.


"At Tuesday’s roughly 30-minute hearing, Ellis thanked the 70 or so potential jurors …"

Seems like a lot. How many will actually serve? And are they watched carefully? For their own safety and/or to make sure no one tries to make a deal with them?


I’m trying to understand the rationale for publicizing the witness list–particularly in a case in which any potential witnesses will potentially be exposed to enormous public scrutiny and pressure, including the ominous scrutiny of the White House and its media empire, and the risk of wrongful influence and defamation is far from negligible. I can’t think of any rationale. It would be good to get reporting on the judge’s stated reasons. Otherwise I’ll be drawn to the conclusion that this dude Ellis is a show pony who loves the circus.


You mean, Ellis = Ito (the judge in the O.J. trial)?


Golden Throne rage-tweets in 3…2…1…

Oh, I dunno…I’m no legal scholar, but strategically–and especially if Manafort is being reluctant–I could see publishing a witness list to let him know how wide the investigation has run, and why he should cop a fucking plea.


He’s a show pony with a decided political slant to the right. Remember his opinion in which he opposed the very idea of a Special Counsel? His decision to publicize the name of all potential witnesses and especially those to whom the prosecutor would like to grant immunity, in the event they testify, strikes me as fishy and possibly an effort to help the Manafort team.


He’s had many opportunities to help Manafort yet has only ruled in his favor once, and that was to grant both the government and Manafort’s request for a continuance. It looks to me like this judge is erring on the side of extreme caution and transparency.


He has pleaded not guilty in the case, as well as to the seperate set of charges …

In ninth grade English class, we read the book A Separate Peace by John Knowles. When she handed back our book reports, Miss Frank said she cried. We had all misspelled the word “separate.”

C’mon TPM, surely your copy editors have better than a ninth grade education.


This is a gift to the defense. Now they know who all the witnesses are (except, probably, impeachment witnesses). That will help them prepare but, in a paper case like this, probably won’t make much difference. It can, however, make the trial run more smoothly and that may be part of the judge’s reasoning.

Although many states require prosecutors to tell the defense what witnesses they are going to call, the feds don’t have to do that. Many states have modernized procedures to prevent “trial by surprise” but the Department of Justice has successfully opposed most disclosure reform in federal court.


I think Ellis is of the view that many states take that the defense is entitled to have transparency into the gov’t’s case to prepare a proper defense. I have no issue with that. By forcing the gov’t to reveal the witness list, Ellis is indicating that the trial will commence promptly and conclude promptly as well. That, if anything, would push Manafort to seriously consider his options.


That’s a good one.


I think a lot of what we’re seeing in these 2 years of Trump is conservatives putting their own myths to the test.

I think Manafort is playing a game of brinksmanship. He believes the best way for him to get off is to put Mueller on trial, change public opinion, and angle for either a post-conviction commutation or pardon, while leaving jail a hero, while also pushing for a mistral or acquittal if he can get it.

The big difference here is that this isn’t a politically charged trial nor is it one about free expression clashing with other gov’t roles. This is a case about a powerful rich elite asshole cheating taxpayers and using his position on the Trump campaign to do more cheating. This is a documentary evidence based case, not one where witness testimony and perception are paramount.

  1. Trial opening isn’t today or tomorrow: it doesn’t open until a week tomorrow.

  2. Nothing prevents a defendant in an ongoing trial from changing his plea.

That said, I can’t argue with the black swan of jury nullification. No one can. It’s not even a predictable white-black dichotomous thing, tho of course culture can & does play its role.

Not one of the 4 LA juries that heard the trial of its given LAPD officer charged with assaulting Rodney King guilty.
It’s not necessary to go into depth about the criminal trial of OJ Simpson for double homicide.

All that said, people may be quick to assume Judge Ellis is erring on the ‘mob’s friendly judge’ side of this decision, because now each of those government witnesses named, the civilian non-protected ones at least, is a sitting duck for mob approach.

But there’s an OTOH here: assuming Ellis looks at Manafort and thinks, there’s a man who’s having trouble seeing all this as REAL, which, if he did, he would plead out NOW, ordering the government to publish its witness list is one of number of things that maybe Ellis figured might jar Manafort into reality. Ellis was an attorney; plus he’s had decades of experience on the bench. Rightly or wrongly, this is a typical reflection of how curmudgeon judges think, ESPECIALLY in rocket docket jurisdictions: that the judge who applies pressure to both sides forces both sides together into ‘settlement’.

I tend not to buy into this homespun hardhat b.s., but all that does, according to someone like Ellis, is expose me as some libtard dreamer of a perfect justice heaven disengaged from human reality. And I’ve been around long enough to see that point as well.

We don’t even know if ANY plea deal is possible here. Manafort’s beagles can bark all they want at him about a marginal chance, but if that’s all Manafort’s mind can handle, all he’ll hear is the “chance” part not the “marginal” part.

Besides, what is “marginal” anyway? What is a “percentage chance” in this setting? None of that has any relevance. Either there’s a chance of jury nullification or of some nefariousness or other tomfoolery or there isn’t.


Evading taxes is something I can see garnering sympathy from the proles. Trump famously bragged on the campaign trail his corporate tax strategy (i.e. pay as little as possible) meant he was a smart businessman. Voters ate it up. Ask someone, “If an Australian person pays me to dig a ditch in his back yard in Canberra, why in the hell does Uncle Sam deserve a cut of the action?” My money says their sympathy would lie with the ditch digger, not the IRS agent with his hand out.

John Dillinger and Jesse James weren’t beloved, romanticized figures for their charity work.

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Obviously the defendant needs the government’s witness list, but releasing the list to the public is unusual. A sure hope Judge Ellis hasn’t been bit by the Lance Ito bug.


Just in time for that sweet witness intimidation!!!

Right, Donny?


This is a different jury pool. The sheer millions of dollars involved are going to make Manafort very unsympathetic to a jury. Also, Manafort doesn’t have constitutional arguments to rely on.

The Bundy case was outrageous but they mucked up the trial with a lot of free expression and gun rights arguments where they were on more solid constitutional grounds (even though we know they were full of shit). The charge of conspiracy was also a bit of a convoluted way to get to what happened: that a bunch of far right red necks stormed and destroyed federal property. It put a burden to find evidence of a prior agreement which might’ve been difficult to do. There are always anomalous cases and results that are a product of societal bias, politicization, but overall the system tends to align to the established precedent.


The prosecution is negotiating with the defense to reduce the witness list. I would guess over an agreed statement of facts. If the defense will agree to a set of facts, then the witness won’t need to be called. The point is that the defense probably already knows who is on the list and what they will say.