Paul Manafort could log onto a computer from his first jail cell, a unit he described to friends and family as a “VIP” setup with its own private shower and bathroom. He also didn’t have to wear a prison uniform.
That all changed Thursday with the longtime GOP operative’s transfer two hours north to a maximum-security detention center in Northern Virginia where the meals are known to be carbohydrate-heavy and the internet, except in rare cases, is nonexistent.Story Continued Below
Because of his high-profile status, the former Donald Trump campaign chairman whose first criminal trial on bank and tax fraud charges starts later this month, is still expected to be segregated from the general prison population.
A city sheriff’s official said Manafort is unlikely to have a cellmate at the 31-year old Alexandria Detention Center, and apart from meetings with his attorneys and approved visitors, he will get only limited breaks during the day for recreation activities in a common area without other prisoners around.
As seen in the mug shot released Thursday by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office, Manafort was issued the standard light green jumpsuit worn by all inmates, with the word ‘prisoner’ emblazoned on it.
That’s a stark contrast from his previous arrangement at a different jail in Warsaw, Virginia, where Manafort had been locked up since June 15 after a federal judge overseeing one of his cases revoked his release under house arrest, citing new witness tampering charges filed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
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At the Northern Neck Regional Jail, Manafort had described to friends getting “VIP” treatment that included use of a private bathroom, access to a phone and laptop computer in his own private cell and a separate workspace he could use from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., according to court documents filed earlier this week by Mueller’s prosecutors.
The special counsel’s office also said jail officials had also “made extra accommodations” for Manafort to use the computer, including an extension cord that let him work in his cell.
But many of those perks were ripped away after U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III on Tuesday ordered Manafort moved to the prison in Alexandria that’s just a couple blocks from the courthouse where his trial is scheduled to start July 25.
Downplaying concerns raised by Manafort’s attorneys about his safety, Ellis vouched for the detention center by noting its staff are “very familiar with housing high-profile defendants including foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors.”
Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor based in Alexandria who now serves as a defense attorney with a client housed at the same facility as Manafort, said the jail was more than capable of keeping the former Trump campaign leader out of harm’s way.
“He does not need to worry about his safety,” he said. “His fellow prisoners are probably from different cultures. They may treat him with respect. Maybe not. But they’re not going to take any action against him. He’s not an ax murderer. He’s not a child pornographer. He’s an alleged fraudster.”
“Is it camp? No, it’s a jail,” Rossi added. “They’re not going to get filet mignon every night.”
In a fresh blow to Manafort, a federal appeals court on Thursday turned down Manafort’s request for immediate release from jail in advance of his trials.
Manafort joins a long list of high-profile inmates to have been confined at the Alexandria jail, including convicted spy Robert Hanssen, Al Qaeda operative and Sept. 11 mastermind Zacarias Moussaoui, and former New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
The jail’s general population includes about 400 men and women serving less than one-year sentences, as well as people like Manafort who are preparing for their trials. Federal prisoners are kept at the city prison under an agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service.
For the general population, the facility is widely seen as clean and safe. There are televisions and a telephone in each unit’s common area, a barber on staff for haircuts, and prisoners can get help with anger management, drug addictions, English lessons and literacy.
Lawyer visits commonly take place in a small, windowless room with a small, round table in the middle. An intercom on the wall is used to signal to the guards when a meeting is finished and a prisoner is ready to go back to the cell. Inmates have access to a canteen for purchasing supplies. Prison officials are allowed to read inmate mail and record their phone calls to people besides lawyers. The calls are all made collect.
Inmates must approve visitors, who are restricted from coming during lockdowns, on Tuesday mornings and Saturday nights. A clear partition separates visitors and prisoners and they can communicate only through a telephone.
Mealtimes are on a strict schedule, too, with breakfast between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.; lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and dinner between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Special diets are allowed.
“It’s certainly not a place where you’d take someone on a date,” said Melinda Douglas, public defender for the city of Alexandria.
In her 2015 book “The Story: A Reporter’s Journey,” Miller recounted the 85 days she spent during the summer and fall of 2005 in the Alexandria Detention Center after refusing to cooperate with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into who in the George W. Bush administration leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Upon her arrival, Miller, who would be mixed in with the general female population, was given a basic set of undergarments, a “paper-thin mat and matching pillow,” a blanket and a see-through plastic bag holding “all my worldly possessions: a comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, and soap,” she wrote.
She had to relinquish all of her jewelry except a wedding ring, which she could keep because it didn’t have any precious stones in it. Wristwatches were banned, and the “deputies” — which is what the inmates were told to call the guards — “had effectively abolished time,” she wrote.
Miller said she was kept in a 70-square-foot cell with a rotating cast of cellmates. There was no furniture and an open toilet and sink “plus a mirror made of polished metal that could not be shattered or used to slash a wrist or murder a cell mate.”
As for the meals, Miller described having hot dogs during Friday lunches and hard-boiled eggs and “real tea” for Sunday breakfasts. She also recalled the prison’s “vile food — mystery meats drenched in thick brown sauce that a fellow inmate dubbed ‘sloppy no’s,’ accompanied by starches and carbohydrates in shades of brown and gray.”
Cells were “lit all day and dimmed only at night” and the jail’s “harsh fluorescent lights were not good for sustained reading.” Male prisoners got the bulk of the recreation time on an indoor basketball court, and there was limited access to the outdoors.
“Sometimes an empathetic deputy would unlock a side door to the gym that opened onto an alcove with a wire-mesh roof, a giant birdcage,” Miller wrote. “You could breathe fresh air. In my eighty-five days at ADC, I had access to the alcove and fresh air five times.”
Manafort’s movements in Alexandria are likely to be much more limited, according to people familiar with the prison’s arrangements. Indeed, jail officials on Thursday cited as examples of their experience with high-profile prisoners both Hanssen and Moussaoui, who on different occasions were kept by themselves in an 80-square-foot cell away from the rest of the general population.
In Moussaoui’s case, he had access to a computer with internet because he was defending himself at his upcoming trial. But Manafort, who has a team of lawyers working for him, isn’t expected to get the same privileges.
Miller, in an email to POLITICO, said she believed Manafort would have conditions similar to those she experienced.
“Yup. …. But having access to internet is HUGE … if he’ll have that,” Miller said. “I had lots of telephone time, and that, too, made a huge psychological difference.”
She added, “It’s hard to describe how claustrophobic jail can be. And ADC was a very well-run, but tough jail without an outdoor courtyard for exercise or just fresh air. … It’s certainly not Spa ADC, even if you have your own prison suite.”
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