ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The trial of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman and the first target of the investigation by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller, got off to a quick start as the federal judge overseeing it said he hoped to seat a jury by early afternoon Tuesday.
A panel of 65 prospective jurors crowded into the ninth-floor courtroom where U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III and teams of lawyers sorted out potential conflicts that might disqualify some from serving.
Ellis has said he expects the trial to last about three weeks.
At the start of the jury selection, nine panelists reported past social or employment contacts at the Justice Department. The quick show of hands drew a ripple of laughter from the gallery and the judge.
“Remind me not to ask that question again,” Ellis quipped.
None of the panelists said that their contacts would pose a conflict in the case.
After briefly outlining the 18 counts of bank fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy charges against the 69-year-old defendant, Ellis told the panel that Manafort “must be presumed innocent.”
Ellis repeated the instruction three times as Manafort, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt, sat quietly at the defense table.
Outside the courthouse, a small band of protesters greeted spectators and potential jurors who began lining up to enter around 7 a.m., two hours before court convened.
The protesters waved homemade placards, bearing the messages: “Lock him up!”; “Traitor;” and “It’s Mueller time.”
An effigy of President Donald Trump also was propped on a nearby retaining wall.
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