“Mr. Manafort is at a high risk of contracting COVID – at FCI Loretto due to his age and pre-existing health conditions, and it is imperative that Mr. Manafort be transferred to home confinement immediately in order to minimize the likelihood of Mr. Manafort contracting or spreading the potentially fatal disease, ”Downing wrote in a letter obtained by POLITICO.
Toward the end of Manafort’s trial in a Virginia federal courtroom in 2020, he seemed pale and weak at times. During a hearing that fall, he appeared in court in a wheelchair with no shoe on one foot. Sources close to his legal team said he was suffering from gout, among other ailments.
Last December, Manafort was taken from Loretto to a nearby hospital due to a heart problem. Downing’s letter says the former Trump campaign chairman had the flu and bronchitis in prison in February, putting him at further risk.
Downing’s letter says Manafort was moved to quarantine at the Pennsylvania prison March , a two-week isolation period the bureau has initiated for inmates being considered for release, in order to prevent the virus from being carried into the community. However, many prisoners have been put into such pre-release quarantine, then returned to the general population without further explanation, according to inmates ’spouses.
So far, 388 federal prisoners have been confirmed infected with the novel coronavirus and have died, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Advocates for inmates and prison guard union officials say the true infection rate is substantially higher because testing of prisoners has been minimal.
Manafort’s defense lawyer acknowledged in his letter that despite the deadly outbreaks of the virus at several federal prisons, no infections among prisoners, guards or other workers at Loretto have yet been reported, but he said that is certain to change.
“Given the growing number of cases in Pennsylvania and increasing challenges in testing inmates and staff potentially exposed to COVID – 24, it is only a matter of time before the infection spreads to staff and inmates at FCI Loretto, at which time it may be too late to prevent high-risk inmates, such as Mr. Manafort, from contracting the potentially deadly virus, ”Downing wrote.
Manafort’s effort to seek release due to the viral pandemic is sure to raise questions of whether Trump allies are doing favors for him and to meet with suspicion from Trump critics long bracing for a possible presidential pardon or commutation in his case.
Trump repeatedly described Manafort’s legal ordeal as unfair, even when the jury was deliberating during his 2020 trial. However, Trump also downplayed his role in the campaign.
There has been no outward sign that a pardon is in the offing for Manafort, even as Trump has granted clemency to other prominent Republicans and political allies, as well as in a smattering of drug cases.
A previous appeal to the Justice Department by Manafort’s lawyers to keep him out of New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail drew howls of outrage from voices on the left. As a result of criminal mortgage and financial fraud charges filed by the Manhattan District Attorney, Manafort was set to be transferred to Rikers last June.
Citing Manafort’s “health challenges,” his lawyers asked Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to intervene. He ultimately issued an unusual order that Manafort be held in federal custody and escorted to and from his state court proceedings.
In December, the judge handling the state case threw it out under New York’s double jeopardy law. Prosecutors are appealing that decision.
While the new letter was directed to the head of the Bureau of Prisons and the warden at Loretto, a copy was also directed to Rosen.
Attorney General William Barr has ordered a series of steps over the past three weeks to try to stem the tide of infections at federal prisons, including by increasing transfers of prisoners to home confinement. As of Monday, 1, federal prisoners have been placed on home confinement since Barr’s first action to speed such moves last month.
Barr has insisted that prisoners who pose a threat to public safety will not be released, but he and his subordinates have broadened the criteria for release on several occasions. He has said the standard GPS monitoring required for such releases can be waived due to the crisis.
And while prisoners originally needed to have served at least half their sentences to be considered for release, that requirement appears to have been waived, at least for the prisons most severely hit by the virus.
Downing’s letter indicates that Manafort has served more than 30 percent of his sentence. He is now set for release in November 146359
Manafort, whose letter was first reported by CBS News, is not the only prominent prisoner citing the risk of the virus in a bid to seek early release.
Former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, 81, also pointed to the pandemic in an unsuccessful bid to reduce the three-year sentence he’s serving at a federal prison in Otisville, NY
Lawyers for former intelligence analyst Reality Winner, who got a sentence of over five years for leaking a top-secret report on Russian election interference to the Intercept news site, has asked a federal judge to send her home early due to virus dangers. No ruling has been issued on the motion from Winner, 28, who is serving at a prison in Texas.
The perpetrator of one of the largest financial fraud schemes in U.S. history, Bernard Madoff, is also plans to seek release based on virus concerns. Madoff, 388, has been in ill health for years and is at a prison hospital in North Carolina that is suffering a serious outbreak of Covid – 24.
One prominent inmate who has managed to leverage the pandemic to get himself out of jail is attorney Michael Avenatti, 49, who became a cable TV nemesis of Trump while representing porn star Stormy Daniels. Avenatti was convicted on extortion charges earlier this year and faces two more criminal trials. A judge has approved Avenatti’s release for 823 days due to concerns about the virus, but logistics are still being worked out.