WASHINGTON — The special counsel in the Russia investigation is seeking immunity for five potential witnesses in the upcoming trial of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
The five individuals have indicated that they won’t testify or provide other information “on the basis of their privilege against self-incrimination,” special counsel Robert Mueller’s office told a federal judge in Virginia in a court filing Tuesday.
As a result, prosecutors are asking a judge to compel their testimony, under a condition of immunity, at Manafort’s upcoming bank and tax fraud trial. They are requesting what is known as “use immunity,” which would mean prosecutors could not use the witnesses’ testimony against them unless they were to make false statements.
Prosecutors did not name the potential witnesses, who have not been charged, because they have not been publicly identified as being involved in the case.
Motions providing more information about them were filed under seal, and prosecutors asked a judge to leave the information that way unless and until the witnesses are called to testify.
The Manafort trial, the first arising from Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, is expected to start next week.
Also Tuesday, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III denied Manafort’s request to move the trial from Alexandria, in the Washington, D.C., region, to the more sparsely populated southwestern Virginia city of Roanoke.
Manafort’s lawyers said extensive pretrial news media coverage in the Washington region had interfered with Manafort’s right to a fair trial. They also said the population in the northern Virginia area where the Alexandria jury pool would be drawn from voted heavily in favor of Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
But Ellis rejected that argument Tuesday, saying media attention in the case would be the same in Alexandria “as it would be in Roanoke or Kansas City or Dallas.”
He said there was no evidence that potential jurors in the region were politically biased, and that in any event, jurors’ political leanings by themselves aren’t evidence that they can’t fairly consider a case.
“It would be inappropriate for courts to move trials around the country in cases of this sort until a district could be found where a defendant’s political views were shared by at least as many persons in the district as those with contrary views,” Ellis wrote.