Manafort jury pool was full of opinions

The 12 jurors who found Paul Manafort guilty of eight crimes had little knowledge of the case before the trial began. But several of the people called for jury duty for Manafort’s trial in Virginia last month did have opinions about the case before they reported to court, according to a newly unsealed transcript from when the lawyers and judge first determined the jury.

The transcript made public Wednesday offers a new window into how potential jurors felt about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman.

The jury pool of about 65 people pulled from the densely populated DC metro area in Virginia and from the more rural counties around Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia. As might be expected, many in the pool had connections to the federal government or politics.

One potential juror was a writer for the right-wing website WorldNetDaily. Another was married to a staffer for a Republican congressman from Ohio. Both were not chosen. (Each juror in the transcript is referred to by number, not by name.)

Manafort heads to his second criminal trial in under a month. The judge on that case said she expects the jury selection to take longer and be more difficult than the Virginia proceeding, because of the amount of media attention the case received less than a month earlier and Washington residents’ propensity to follow the news and politics.

The jury that was selected for the Virginia trial had an accountant, teachers and government contractors, and a US Supreme Court employee. The only juror who has spoken publicly said after the trial that she was a Trump supporter. Still, the jury unanimously found Manafort guilty on eight criminal charges, and one juror — not the one who’s spoken publicly — refused to agree he was guilty on 10 others, causing them to hang on those counts.

Few of the jurors who sat through Manafort’s 14-day trial were directly questioned in court after they filled out forms disclosing their familiarity with the case.

One juror, a 51-year-old government contractor, according to the court’s records, told the judge that before he came to the courtroom on the first trial day, “Only the name sounded familiar when I heard it.”

That the other 11 jurors weren’t asked in court about what they’d read of the case indicates that their responses on a preliminary questionnaire didn’t raise the prosecutor and defense lawyers’ suspicions. Ideally, jurors know little about the case they must weigh, or if they do know about it, must say they could hear it with impartiality.

As for the jurors who didn’t get picked for Manafort’s case, several had political biases and had followed Manafort’s legal troubles closely. A few leaned to the right, while several said they thought Manafort was likely guilty.

Without fail, each juror told the judge they could weigh the case without bias. The judge and lawyers didn’t always believe each person.

“There’s a possibility that he might have done what he’s being accused of doing,” one female potential juror said. “I’m somewhat jaded because of the manner in which this has come forward … as part of Mr. Mueller’s investigation.

“But I mean, innocent until proven guilty, that’s what I say.”

She went on, speaking about the special counsel’s office and Manafort’s lawyers, according to the court transcript.

“I feel that the Mueller investigation is dragging on and dragging on,” she said. “And I feel at some point that maybe — I hate to use this term, but for lack of a better term, when they say ‘witch hunt.’ … I’m not sure I like the way in which this situation has come forth.”

The woman was not selected for the jury.

Another potential juror came to court with a potentially similar bent, after reading “an expose on Mr. Manafort” in the conservative magazine National Review last year, he told the court.

The judge, however, didn’t toss the potential juror immediately.

“I looked him straight in the eye and he said he could put it to one side,” Judge T.S. Ellis told the lawyers in discussing the man’s comment. “If we begin getting rid of people because of certain magazines they read, we have reached a dangerous situation. Then we could only seat people who didn’t read.”

Another potential juror expressed a negative opinion about Manafort.

“Mr. Manafort seems kind of slimy,” the man told the judge. “But I know what it’s like to have stories told about you. I have an opinion, but it’s more important to let the person being talked about tell their story.”

One person, who was not chosen, was eager to serve. “I would love to serve on this case,” the potential juror said. Ellis almost immediately reacted when the juror walked away from the lawyers’ discussion. “I, frankly, was a little put off by her desire to serve on this jury,” he said.

“You’re not alone, judge,” Manafort’s defense lawyer Richard Westling replied.

One juror told the lawyers she had read about the case on Facebook. “I don’t even remember what it was about, actually,” she said. A second person said he had heard Manafort’s name on the radio.

Several other jurors in the pool had direct connections to the FBI and CIA. Another was an IT manager at the CIA whose father and mother worked for the FBI.

One man said he worked for an FBI contractor that tracked computer hacking. He became an alternate juror who was excused from court after the defense rested its case and jury deliberations began.