THIS IS A tale of two defendants and two systems of justice.
Christmas was coming, and Paul Manafort wanted to spend the holiday with his extended family in the Hamptons, where he owns a four-acre estate that has 10 bedrooms, a pool, a tennis court, a basketball court, a putting green, and a guest cottage. But Manafort was under house arrest in northern Virginia. Suspected of colluding with the Russian government, the former campaign manager for Donald Trump had been indicted on a dozen charges involving conspiracy, money laundering, bank fraud, and lying to federal investigators.
Paul Manafort’s Hamptons estate, left, and the jail in Lincolnton, right.
A lobbyist who became mysteriously wealthy over the years, Manafort avoided jail by posting $10 million in bond, though he was confined to his luxury condo in Alexandria, Virginia. That’s why, in mid-December, his lawyers asked the judge to make an exception. Manafort’s $2.7 million Virginia home could not provide “adequate accommodations” for his holiday guests, some of whom would have difficulty traveling because of health problems, the lawyers stated. A day later, the judge agreed to the request. Manafort could have his Christmas getaway in the Hamptons.
Hundreds of miles away, another defendant in an eerily related case was not so blessed. Reality Winner, an Air Force veteran and former contractor for the National Security Agency, was sitting in a small-town jail in Lincolnton, Georgia. Arrested a year ago today, on June 3, 2017, Winner was accused of leaking an NSA document that showed how Russians tried to hack American voting systems in 2016.
The bail system plays to the advantage of wealthy defendants like Paul Manafort and Harvey Weinstein (who paid his $1 million bond with a cashier’s check), because they can provide the government with fantastic sums; freedom is quite literally for sale, as in a story Anton Chekhov might have written about czarist Russia. The poor and the unlucky are stuck behind bars, punished before their guilt is determined. Defendants who are unable to pay bail have sometimes been held for years without a trial.
IMAGINE THAT YOU are facing trial but are forbidden from searching for evidence to prove you are innocent. It is a scenario from a totalitarian “Alice in Wonderland” – you may do anything you want to defend yourself except the one thing that might actually help.
That’s a rough approximation of the situation Winner’s lawyers have faced due to a strange twist in her case. She is accused of potentially causing “exceptionally grave damage” to national security by leaking a classified document that, the government claims, contains “national defense information.”
Winner’s lawyers have stated in public filings that they needed to search on the internet to determine whether information in the document was known to a large number of government officials or was in the public domain. This was crucial to their effort to prove that the document did not merit NDI status. But because the document is classified, and because researching its contents on the internet could disclose search queries to hackers who theoretically could compromise the lawyers’ computers or access their routers, they were prohibited from Googling key phrases, according to court filings. In essence, Winner’s lawyers were forbidden from finding out if the document was as sensitive as the government claimed.