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Manafort trial judge given police protection after threats


Deliberations: Paul Manafort. Photo: Getty Images

Deliberations: Paul Manafort. Photo: Getty Images

Deliberations: Paul Manafort. Photo: Getty Images

A judge presiding over the fraud trial of Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, has disclosed he had received threats and was under police protection.

District Judge T S Ellis III also told a court he feared for the "peace and safety of the jurors".

In the US, jury lists are presumed to be public unless a judge gives a reason for keeping them secret. Judge Ellis said he would not be revealing the jurors' names because of his safety concerns.

Jurors have been deliberating for two days following a two-week trial in which Mr Manafort faces 18 charges of bank fraud and tax evasion.Judge Ellis, sitting in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, said he himself was being guarded by a US marshal. He did not give specifics of the threats, but said he had been taken aback by the level of interest in the trial.

The judge said: "I've received criticism and threats. I imagine they [the jurors] would too. I had no idea this case would excite these emotions. I don't feel right if I release their names."

It came as Mr Trump called Mr Manafort a "very good person".

Weighing in yesterday, he called the bank and tax fraud trial of his former campaign chairman "very sad" and described the defendant as a "very good person".

Mr Manafort's trial in federal court is the first stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller's 15-month-old investigation of Russia's role in the 2016 US election.

Mr Trump again called Mr Mueller's investigation a "rigged witch hunt" but sidestepped a question about whether he would issue a presidential pardon for Mr Manafort.

"I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad, when you look at what's going on there. I think it's a very sad day for our country," Mr Trump said.

"He worked for me for a very short period of time. But you know what? He happens to be a very good person. And I think it's very sad what they've done to Paul Manafort."

As president, Mr Trump has the power to pardon Mr Manafort on federal charges. He has already issued a series of pardons, including for a political ally, former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.

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Asked if he would pardon Mr Manafort, Mr Trump said, "I don't talk about that now."

The charges largely predate Mr Manafort's five months working on Mr Trump's campaign during a pivotal period in the 2016 presidential race, including three months as campaign chairman.

Mr Manafort (69) faces five counts of filing false tax returns, four counts of failing to disclose his offshore bank accounts and nine counts of bank fraud.

If convicted on all counts, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

It is unusual for a US president to make comments about the character of a defendant in an ongoing trial and criticise the legal proceedings.

But it was not the first time Mr Trump has weighed in since the Manafort trial began on July 31.

On the first day the jury heard testimony, Mr Trump said Mr Manafort had been treated worse than 1920s gangster Al Capone.

Mr Trump has made previous comments criticising various federal judges and courts and has been harshly critical of Mr Mueller. Yesterday, he accused Mr Mueller of having "a lot of conflicts" but said the special counsel should be allowed to finish a report on Russia's role in the 2016 election.

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