Judge in trial of Donald Trump’s former aide Paul Manafort says he received threats

The judge presiding over the fraud trial of Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, revealed on Friday that he has received threats and is under police protection.

District Judge TS Ellis also told a court that he feared for the "peace and safety of the jurors".

In the United States jury lists are presumed to be public unless a judge has good reason for keeping them secret.

The judge 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 Manafort faces 18 charges of bank fraud and tax evasion.

Judge Ellis, sitting in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, gave an insight into the tensions surrounding the case when he revealed he was being protected 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."

Profile | Paul Manafort

Mr Manafort stands accused of hiding $15 million from the taxman and fraudulently obtaining millions more in bank loans.

Mr Manafort also faces a second trial in September on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent based on his links with Russian and Ukrainian backed business work.

Prosecutors have been careful not to mention the former political consultant’s links to the US president but the trial has still been closely watched in Washington.

It is the first trial based on evidence collected by federal agents from Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation into potential Russian collusion with the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. As a result, Republicans and Democrats have seized on the case to promote their own ends.

Mr Trump has claimed his former campaign chief is the target of a "witch hunt", persecuted for his association with the president.

As the jury continued to consider their verdict on Friday, Mr Trump called Mr Manafort a "very good person".

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

"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."

Judge Ellis said he also plans to release the transcripts of bench conferences currently sealed by the court with one exception – likely a discussion which relates to information from Mr Mueller’s investigators about its ongoing investigation.

"A thirsty press is essential in a free country," the judge said.

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