The reports sounded dire. Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort had been jailed last month after a judge ruled he violated his conditions of release while awaiting trial— and now, his lawyers wrote, he had been “housed in solitary confinement” in the Northern Neck Regional Jail. Manafort was “locked in his cell for at least 23 hours per day (excluding visits from his attorneys).”
But a new filing by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team makes Manafort’s time behind bars seem … well, not quite so bad as all that might make you think.
Over the past week, reports based solely on the word of Manafort’s lawyers prompted a flurry of commentary about the allegedly horrendous mistreatment he’s been suffering. Solitary confinement is “basically a deathtrap,” former New York City police commissioner (and convicted felon) Bernard Kerik wrote. “A 12’ x 8’ solid steel or concrete box with a metal bed, stainless steel sink and toilet, and if you’re lucky, a small concrete or metal writing table and stool.”
Other conservative commentators also weighed in:
Solitary lockup for 23 hours a day can cause madness. It is aimed at torturing Manafort into saying whatever Mueller wants him to say
— Dinesh D’Souza (@DineshDSouza) July 7, 2018
#Mueller has imprisoned #PaulManafort before trial for alleged witness tampering,-now watch as federal prison authorities put him in solitary confinement “for his own protection.” What’s next in #SpecialCounsel’s desperate quest to build case vs @realDonaldTrump water boarding?
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) June 16, 2018
Even some who are not at all fans of Trump or Manafort weighed in to criticize the practice as a policy. “Solitary confinement is still torture,” Splinter News’s Katherine Krueger wrote, “even if it’s happening to Paul Manafort.”
However, Mueller’s new filing, if accurate, reveals that the Manafort version of solitary confinement comes with certain amenities.
- Manafort “is not confined to a cell”
- Between 8:30 am and 10 pm, Manafort “has access to a separate workroom at the jail to meet with his attorneys and legal team”
- He has “his own bathroom and shower facility”
- He has “his own personal telephone,” which he can use more than 12 hours a day
- Those calls are limited to 15 minutes each, but when they cut off, he can just call the person back immediately
- He’s made nearly 300 phone calls in the last three weeks
- He has a personal laptop he can use in his unit to review materials and prepare for his trial
- He was provided an extension cord to let him use his laptop in either his unit or his workroom
- He’s not allowed to send emails, but he “has developed a workaround” for even that — his legal team brings in a laptop, he drafts the emails on that laptop, and they send them out after they leave.
- He’s being treated like a “VIP,” according to his own account on a monitored phone call.
Whether all this is akin to “waterboarding” or a strategy to “torture” Manafort into “madness,” I’ll leave for others to decide.
But whatever the conditions currently are, Manafort’s situation is about to change. On Wednesday, Judge T.S. Ellis III ordered him moved from his current jail in rural Warsaw, Virginia to a detention center in Alexandria, Virginia, to await his trial. That trial — the first of two Manafort will face — is scheduled to begin in just two weeks, on July 25.