Paul Manafort was headed for a stay at New York City’s notorious Rikers Island Prison to await arraignment. Then both the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Prisons suddenly intervened.
By James DiGeorgia
Paul J. Manafort, President Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman and friend for over 35 years who has been serving a federal prison sentence, was supposed to be transferred to the notorious Rikers Island jail complex this month to await arraignment and trial for a separate case being prosecuted in New York State.
In what appears to be a clear case of President Trump using his influence and Presidential power illegally with the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Prisons, Manhattan prosecutors received a letter from Jeffrey A. Rosen, Attorney General William P. Barr’s new top deputy, indicating that he was monitoring where Mr. Manafort would be held in New York.
Then federal prison officials weighed in, stepping in and telling the Manhattan district attorney’s office summarily that Mr. Manafort, 70, would not be going to Rikers Island.
This special treatment is just another attempt by President Trump to keep Manafort from providing evidence against him and his family. Trump has refused to rule out a pardon for his former campaign manager and political consultant, which many observers would see as a blatant attempt to keep Manafort from cooperating in one or more of the current 15 criminal investigations underway into President Trump, his businesses and family members.
In March, Manafort was indicted on 16 New York state felonies, including mortgage fraud and falsifying records to obtain millions of dollars in loans. The indictment, which was based on some of the same actions in one of the federal cases, was brought by the office of the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., to ensure Mr. Manafort would still face prison time if, President Trump pardoned him for the federal crimes he was convicted and pled guilty to.
Manafort was supposed to be held on Rikers Island, which has a decade’s old reputation for violence and mismanagement. Officials at Rikers had indicated that Mr. Manafort likely would have been held in protective custody for his safety, isolated from the general population and under heavy guard, a common practice with non-violent criminals of his age.
Mr. Manafort according to Federal Bureau of Prisons has been transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a federal detention center in Lower Manhattan, in anticipation of his arraignment next week, according to unnamed sources cited by the Washington Post.
After Manafort is arraigned he could be held at the lower Manhattan MCC facility while he awaits trial, or he could return to the federal prison in Loretto, PA, where he is serving his sentence. If he is returned to Pennsylvania he would be brought to New York for pretrial hearings, according to established practice.
The intervention by the second-highest official in the Justice Department as to where Manafort would be held during his state trial is extraordinarily unusual. The warden usually makes the decision at the federal prison where the inmate is being held. The Justice Department has fanned the flames of speculation that President Trump has intervened because when asked officials from the DOJ were unable to say who made the decision in Mr. Manafort’s case; the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the Justice Department, did not respond to a request for comment.
Todd Blanche, a lawyer for Mr. Manafort, admitted the direct involvement of deputy attorney general Rosen and said the decision not to hold his client on Rikers was ‘atypical” and that Manafort should not be facing state charges for behavior that was the subject of two federal convictions. A legal position that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday which cited states’ rights and the long-established right of states sovereignty. Blanche was quoted as saying…
“You’ll find no example of someone like Mr. Manafort being prosecuted by the feds and then by the district attorney for exactly the same conduct,”
Mr. Vance’s office spokesperson declined to comment. However, no high profile felon in the past has had the benefit of close ties with a U.S. President that would allow his being pardoned for the purpose to either rewarding him for keeping his mouth shut, coordinating his defense with a President’s lawyers or to keep him from spilling his guts.
Meanwhile, Mr. Blanche had objected to Mr. Manafort being held at Rikers in a May 17 letter, asking the warden at the federal prison in Pennsylvaniasylvania to intercede and object to Manafort’s being held by New York at Riker's request, citing his age and health issues.
Blanche letter was obtained and reviewed by The New York Times and included Mr. Blanche also criticism that the charges against his client were “a blatant violation” of New York’s double jeopardy laws and calling the case “politics at its worst.” The New York district attorney’s office has said it is confident the charges will stand.
A senior Justice Department official said that the Bureau of Prisons had been keeping the Justice Department appraised of Mr. Manafort’s situation. Mr. Rosen sought Mr. Vance’s response largely because of these briefings, the official said.
The Manhattan District Attorney Mr. Vance replied to Mr. Blanche, dismissing what he called “gratuitous claims” that the prosecution was politically motivated and violated double jeopardy protections. Vance correctly pointed out that those arguments were irrelevant to a routine discussion about where Mr. Manafort would be held.
In his letter, Manhattan’s District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said New York prosecutors took no position on whether Mr. Manafort should be held at Rikers, but insisted that keeping him in Pennsylvaniasylvania was not a legitimate option under the law, and was not consistent with how other inmates have been treated who are in similar circumstances.
Now the question becomes, will New York State, an inspector general or the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee call for an investigation into Deputy Attorney General Rosen decision to involve himself in Mr. Manafort’s being detoured from Rikers Island to the comfort of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan?