A New York court has upheld a trial judge’s ruling tossing out state fraud charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
A four-judge New York state Supreme Court appellate panel unanimously ruled Thursday that the state’s double-jeopardy law — aimed at preventing re-prosecution of defendants on the same or similar charges already faced in federal court — barred a 16-count indictment that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. brought last March.
The two-page order on Manafort’s appeal brusquely dismissed Vance’s arguments that the prosecution was permitted because the mortgage fraud and business records falsification charges were sufficiently different from a broad federal tax and bank fraud case Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought against the longtime lobbyist and political consultant in 2018.
“The People failed to establish that the federal and state statutes, all of which were directed against fraudulent transactions, were designed to prevent very different kinds of harm or evil,” the appellate panel’s order said. “The statutory differences cited by the People fall far short of satisfying the ‘very different kinds’ test.”
Vance’s office could try to take the case to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, but any resolution of that would be unlikely until well into next year.
“We will consider our appellate options,” Vance spokesman Danny Frost said.
An attorney for Manafort, Todd Blanche, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. He has previously called the case “politically-charged.”
At least some of the state charges appeared to stem from evidence introduced by Mueller’s team at Manafort’s August 2018 federal trial in Virginia. The jury there convicted him on two bank fraud counts and six other charges, but deadlocked on ten other counts.
As he stared down the possibility of another trial in Washington on charges related to his lobbying for political interests in Ukraine, Manafort entered into a plea deal with prosecutors in which he admitted that all the charges against him in both cases were true.
Manafort was eventually sentenced by two different judges to a combined term of about seven-and-a-half years in prison. After serving about a third of his sentence, the 71-year-old political veteran was released in May to home confinement due to coronavirus-related concerns.
When the New York indictment was announced in March 2019, Vance said it involved “serious criminal charges for which the defendant has not been held accountable.”
Some lawyers and analysts said the state charges appeared to be a kind of insurance policy against a potential Trump pardon of Manafort. The New York case could not prevent Trump from granting clemency, but the new prosecution would have kept the pressure on Manafort to explain any knowledge he had of wrongdoing by Trump. The president does not have authority to pardon a defendant on state charges.
Vance’s approach was thrown into doubt last December, when the trial court judge dismissed all the new charges.
Trump has repeatedly expressed sympathy for Manafort and decried the prosecution as unfair, but has stopped short of declaring that his former campaign chairman was innocent. So far, no clemency for Manafort has been forthcoming.
The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution’s prohibition on double-jeopardy to allow for successive state and federal prosecutions under the so-called “dual sovereign” doctrine, but New York state has a law prohibiting additional protections. Civil libertarians have long opposed the doctrine and pushed for stricter enforcement of the constitutional ban, which was upheld just last year by the Supreme Court on a 7-2 vote.