ALEXANDRIA, VA— The throngs of journalists gathered at the federal courthouse here on Monday included five bookers from ABC News, standing at the ready for a verdict in Paul Manafort’s criminal trial.
Their mission: to track down and sign up the jurors for television appearances in which they might explain how they reached the most eagerly-anticipated verdict in recent political memory.
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They’ll have to wait for another day.
The third full day of deliberations in Manafort’s trial left the media and political worlds in a continued state of suspended animation, as reporters, legal experts and various other gadflies here speculate about how much longer the jury might take—and whether, as Manafort’s lawyers have suggested, the fact that they are still talking is good news for the defendant. (Many legal experts disagree, saying several days of deliberation are normal in a case this complex, with Manafort facing 18 counts including tax and bank fraud.)
In the meantime, no event was too small to escape the scrutiny of an army of bored reporters. Last week, when jurors were first spotted outside the courthouse on smoke breaks, reporters mulled the significance of the sightings. Perhaps it was a sign the jurors were stressed out?
On Monday, at a quarter past noon, a network television intern spotted a cart full of sandwiches being trucked into the jury room and being trucked again out empty. Lunch, it was safe to conclude, had been served. What that might have to do with a verdict was unclear, but everyone seemed to feel a little better knowing about it. It was something.
The day had begun began with a perfunctory 9:30 hearing. A clean-cut Manafort entered the courtroom flanked by U.S. Marshals and smiled at his wife, Kathleen. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s taciturn spokesman, Peter Carr, looked on several rows behind her.
Despite disclosing on Friday that he had himself received threats related to the case, District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III had not taken the extraordinary step of sequestering his jury over the weekend. On Monday morning, after the jurors filed in, Ellis asked them to affirm that they had not discussed the case or undertaken independent research since leaving the courthouse on Friday.
He also acknowledged the arrival of two fresh-faced new law clerks, who, he said, had walked straight into a “maelstrom.”
Ellis noted the absence of lead prosecutor Greg Andres, with whom he’s clashed over the course of the trial and expressed the hope that Andres had not fallen ill. (He hadn’t). Two of Manafort’s five lawyers were also missing from the hearing, but Ellis did not pause to note their absence.
After the hearing adjourned, Sherine Ebadi, the lead FBI agent on the case, conferred outside the courtroom with Uzo Asonye, an Alexandria-based federal prosecutor working with Robert Mueller’s team.
Then, the waiting began. The fact that jurors had been given nearly two hours’ worth of instructions by Ellis – and that they could only review those instructions on an audio cassette player – did nothing to hasten their deliberations.
Inside the courtroom, where electronic devices are forbidden, print media ruled: newspaper crossword puzzles, magazines, paperbacks and games of solitaire.
Over the course of the morning, the judge held two brief sidebars with the attorneys, and little else happened.
But it could have, at any moment. And so television networks convened large teams of junior staffers ready to run from the 9th floor courtroom and an overflow room three stories below and deliver the news of the verdicts on each of the counts that Manafort faces.
About 50 members of the media camped out in the small plaza in front of the courthouse with dozens more in the lobby of the Westin across the street and in the hotel’s restaurant, where a cheeseburger ordered “rare” came back brown in the middle, just the way the president likes it.
Manafort’s wife, his spokesman Jason Maloni, and his defense team held down what has become their usual corner table. Last week, the defense team waited out deliberations by playing five-card draw. On Monday, they read. Manafort’s lead attorney, Kevin Downing, who cuts the profile of a pro football quarterback, paced the lobby and made small talk with reporters.
Finally, in the early afternoon, a hubbub erupted in the courtyard. A verdict? No, just a middle-aged woman shouting racial slurs at various passersby. She retreated to a bench where three policemen interrogated her, and eventually slinked away.
Later, inside the courtroom, a baby appeared in the gallery.
Just before 5 p.m., when the doors of the courthouse close to entrants for the night, Manafort and lawyers for both sides returned for the courtroom. Manafort’s lawyer’s Jay Nanavati plucked a wintergreen lifesaver from a bowl and handed it to his client — a tiny distraction as he awaits a potentially grim fate.
Ellis announced that the jury had asked to extend their deliberations later than usual, to at least 6:15 p.m.
Did this signal a verdict was imminent? On the one hand, as one reporter asked aloud, why not just resume deliberations in the morning unless they were nearing a verdict? On the other hand, for a case of this complexity the jury had sent very few notes to the judge seeking guidance, so perhaps there was more to work through.
At 6 p.m., the lights in the lobby outside the courtroom went out.
The bailiff entered the courtroom with a sheaf of papers in hand and handed them to the clerk.
The verdict? No, jurors’ orders for tomorrow’s lunch, it appeared.
Lawyers filed back into the courtroom. In the gallery, Maloni hugged Kathleen Manafort and she adjusted his pocket square.
A few minutes later the judge announced that deliberations would resume at 9:30 on Tuesday morning.
“I told you so,” Kathleen Manafort whispered to Maloni after the hearing adjourned, though was not clear what she had told. A few minutes later Manafort’s lawyers were back in the Westin’s lobby, drinks in hand.
Meanwhile, in an elevator down from the courtroom, a healthy and upbeat Andres joked with reporters from the New York Times, which reported last week on his penchant for the fast food burger joint Shake Shack. “We’re lucky to be alive, given the diet we eat,” he told them. “As you know.”
Stephanie Murray contributed to this report.