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Federal judge orders new Manafort hearing

(Jose Luis Magana | The Associated Press) In this May 23, 2018, file photo, Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the Federal District Court after a hearing, in Washington. As jurors weigh Manafort’s fate in a sprawling financial fraud case taking place in Alexandria, Va., Manafort still has another, separate trial looming in the nation’s capital. Neither case involves allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination by the Trump campaign, which are at the heart of Mueller’s larger investigation. But President Donald Trump has expressed a keen interest in Manafort’s fate as he seeks to publicly undermine Mueller's probe.

Alexandria, Va. • The federal judge who oversaw Paul Manafort’s prosecution in Virginia is questioning one of the terms of a plea deal that saved President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman from facing a second trial in the District of Columbia.

Calling the way the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election handled the remaining charges against Manafort "highly unusual," Judge T.S. Ellis scheduled a new hearing for Oct. 19.

The jury that heard Manafort’s case in August at the federal court in Alexandria found him guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud, but it deadlocked on 10 others. As part of his agreement to plead guilty to related crimes in federal court in the District, Manafort admitted guilt to those 10 charges as well.

All of his criminal behavior stems from his years as a consultant in Ukraine. Manafort surreptitiously lobbied the U.S. government while hiding the millions he was paid for that work, then lied to get loans when his Ukrainian patron was forced out of office.

In exchange, prosecutors said they would dismiss the remaining counts at Manafort’s sentencing or when his cooperation with the government is complete — whichever comes later.

Ellis, who has a reputation of being tough on attorneys and who repeatedly clashed with prosecutors during the Manafort trial, said in an order issued Tuesday that the timing goes against norms in the Eastern District of Virginia.

"In this District, the government's decision to retry a defendant on deadlocked counts is always made in a timely manner and sentencing occurs within two to no more than four months from entry of a guilty plea or receipt of a jury verdict," he wrote. "This case appears to be no different from any other case in which the defendant is cooperating and that cooperation is expected to extend beyond a scheduled sentencing date."

In those cases, he said, the government must decide whether to file a motion at sentencing asking for the cooperation to be considered, or file a motion after sentencing asking the judge to cut the cooperator's prison term.

The deadlocked counts, he said, should be dismissed or retried now.

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