Manafort case saddled by side issues, disputes with judge

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Paul Manafort leaves Federal District Court in Washington. (Alex Brandon, AP)
Paul Manafort leaves Federal District Court in Washington. (Alex Brandon, AP)

Washington - US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson was not amused.

A lawyer for Paul Manafort, the former campaign chair for US President Donald Trump, was trying to justify the multimillion-dollar value of his client's home as part of a bail package.

Rather than producing tax assessment or property records, the lawyer submitted to the judge a printout from Zillow, the online real estate website.

"Zillow is actually considered to be pretty accurate, your honour," said Kevin Downing, Manafort's attorney. Jackson swatted that aside, insisting she needed "something, some piece of paper beyond just what I got".

READ: Trump ex-campaign chief Manafort indicted in first charges from Russia probe

On many days, the high-profile, high-stakes prosecution of Manafort - a case already outside the central election-meddling focus of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation - is mired in side issues that have left the judge exasperated.

Provocative public statements

Whatever Manafort's strategy, his team's efforts appear largely reflective of the former international consultant's frustration with what he sees as an out-of-control prosecution - and a burdensome house arrest from which his attorneys, despite several attempts, have been unable to free him.

The halting pace of the case in Washington is about to face another obstacle: With new charges filed in Virginia, Manafort is now going to have to balance a wholly separate case with a different judge and possibly another trial.

Lawyer Downing and Judge Jackson have clashed over the attorney's provocative public statements, Manafort's own ghost-written opinion piece in Ukraine and even the format of the court filings submitted by the defence.

There were also weeks of requests by Rick Gates, Manafort's recently flipped co-defendant, to attend his children's sporting events, disputes over his involvement in a friend's fundraiser and multiple defence lawyer substitutions.

"We've been dealing with the minutiae of bond and soccer practice and public relations and people changing their minds about where they want to live and unsettled questions concerning representation since October, and it's unacceptable," Jackson recently said, lamenting to lawyers that they hadn't yet set a trial date.

Separately, as the pre-trial doings proceed, Manafort is suing special counsel Mueller, accusing him of overstepping by indicting him for conduct "unmoored" from the Russian interference.

Manafort is accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent and orchestrating an international money laundering conspiracy to hide millions of dollars he earned from his foreign political work in eastern Europe.

Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni took more shots at the prosecution's fairness last week, suggesting its tactics violated Manafort's constitutional rights. And after Gates' guilty plea, Manafort himself waded into the debate despite Jackson's gag order, maintaining his innocence against "untrue piled-up charges".

Attacking the prosecution is common in cases like this, but former Justice Department prosecutor David Weinstein said judges shouldn't be antagonised.

"If you continue to thumb your nose at the system itself," he said. "That's going to have a negative effect on the way the judge treats any statements you make."

Downing did not return a message seeking comment. Maloni declined comment.

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