Paul Manafort avoids time at Rikers Island after unusual intervention by Trump's Justice Department

Manafort was expected to be moved to the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York as he awaited state charges

Published June 18, 2019 3:53PM (EDT)

Paul Manafort (Getty/Drew Angerer)
Paul Manafort (Getty/Drew Angerer)

Paul Manafort, the longtime Republican consultant who spent five months as President Donald Trump's campaign chairman during the 2016 election, has been spared from an expected transfer to Rikers Island prison in New York, following a highly unusual intervention by the Justice Department.

Manafort, who is currently serving a federal prison sentence in Pennsylvania, was expected to be transferred to the infamous jail complex as he waited state charges brought against him by the Manhattan District Attorney's office. Rikers has been home to some of the most infamous inmates in Gotham history — from serial killer David Berkowitz to John Lennon's murderer, Mark David Chapman.

The Justice Department reportedly intervened to prevent the move last week after Manafort's lawyers expressed concerns about their client's "health and personal safety." Manafort's legal team reportedly proposed that he would remain in federal custody but be made available to state officials as needed. During his federal trial, Manafort's lawyers said their client suffered from "significant" health issues. At times, Manafort appeared in court in a wheelchair or used a cane.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who was confirmed to his position as the nation's second-highest law enforcement official last month, was directly involved in the decision over where Manafort would be held in the Empire State, the New York Times reported Monday night.

Manafort is expected to await his trial at a federal detention center in Manhattan or at the low-security facility in Pennsylvania, where he is currently serving a 7.5 year sentence for crimes, including federal bank fraud, tax and conspiracy.

Rosen's intervention was just the latest development in the case of Manafort, whose campaign work for Trump and long history of working as a political consultant in Ukraine put him in the center of a nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow and whether the president obstructed justice.

Manafort was convicted last year of wide-ranging financial schemes in two separate federal cases that came out of the investigation, which was led by the former special counsel Robert Mueller.

But his criminal problems were far from over. In March, Manafort was indicted on 16 New York state felonies, including mortgage fraud and falsifying records to obtain millions of dollars in loans. The indictment was brought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance in an effort to ensure Manafort would still face prison time, even if Trump moved to pardon his former campaign manager for his federal crimes. (The president cannot issue a pardon for state offenses.)

It remains unclear whether a presidential pardon will arrive in the future for Manafort. Trump has not indicated whether he intends to pardon his former campaign chairman, although he has often boasted of his power to grant pardons, including to himself, and has expressed sympathy for Manafort on a number of occasions, referring to him as a "brave man."

Manafort is expected to be arraigned next week in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan. He had been expected to be held on Rikers Island, which has been plagued by revelations of cruelty, abuse and mismanagement over the years, prompting criminal justice reform advocates to call on public officials to shut it down. Manafort likely would have been held in protective custody at the jail complex for his own safety, locked up for up to 23 hours a day and kept under heavy guard.

By Shira Tarlo

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