Attorneys for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort want his trial on tax evasion, money-laundering and bank fraud charges moved from Alexandria to Roanoke. At present, it’s slated to begin July 25.
This is a wonderful idea for a number of reasons. Some of them get into constitutional issues. Others are economic. There are certain tourism development angles, too. Let’s consider them one at a time.
From a legal perspective, Manafort’s brilliant lawyers seem to be on firm constitutional footing. In a court filing last week, they argued he can’t get a fair trial in Northern Virginia because voters there chose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a 2-1 margin in the 2016 election.
That’s directly contrary to the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the defendant a fair trial by an impartial jury. Obviously, it would be impossible to find 12 impartial jurors in a region that voted so strongly for Hillary.
It would be much fairer to Manafort if jurors came from Virginia’s Western District, which roughly is composed of the 5th, 6th and 9th congressional districts. Collectively, Trump trounced Clinton 619,000-362,000 in that area.
If those numbers leave you thinking, “Wait a minute. That ratio doesn’t seem fair,” you are engaging in a bit of what George Orwell might call misthink. You see, the constitutional guarantee to a fair trial is a right of defendant, not the government. And having it here would be more than fair to Manafort.
By the way, the term “fair” was redefined Jan. 20, 2017. The word now means “favoring President Trump and his cronies.”
Lawyers for Manafort also argued that potential jurors in Northern Virginia have been subjected to an intense barrage of pretrial publicity in the media — otherwise known as “fake news” perpetrated by the “enemy of the American people.” That means those jurors already have made up their pro-Hillary minds.
Fortunately, the noggins of us kind-hearted folks in the Roanoke region are far more pure and unsullied. We have not been subject to evil vices such as cable news, television, newspapers or the internet. We still get all of our information via telegraph, or by the Pony Express — if and when the mail gets delivered.
Also, we are far less likely to convict based on the crimes alleged. Manafort faces 32 separate charges, which roughly fall under the general themes of bank fraud, tax evasion and money laundering. Let’s consider those in reverse order.
Who here in unspoiled Western Virginia has NOT engaged in money laundering? Why, I did it just last week, when I left a sawbuck in a pair of cutoffs that I took down to the stream with my old-fashioned washing board. Western Virginians are very understanding of such a faux pas. Who would vote guilty for something like that? Remember, he who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones.
As for tax evasion, there’s a long history of that in Western Virginia. It goes back generations, to the days of Prohibition (and later), in which moonshiners played cat-and-mouse with the revenue agents seeking our untaxed white lightning, peach brandy and whatnot. By tradition and ancestry, we’re naturally biased against revenuers. So it’s unlikely we’d convict Manafort of tax crimes.
There’s actually a recent Virginia precedent for finding Manafort innocent of bank fraud: Bob and Maureen McDonnell were found not guilty of the same thing in their 2014 corruption trial. (Granted, they were found guilty of a whole bunch of other charges, but the U.S. Supreme Court later threw out those convictions.)
Aside from all of the above, there are certain economic benefits to having the trial here in Roanoke. The end of July is typically a slow period in the ’Noke. News media from around the world are going to be covering the case, which means every hotel room within a 40-mile radius will be sold out for weeks.
That’s room-tax money for local governments, plus meals tax revenue from restaurants. There even are opportunities for mom-and-pop homeowners.
Consider the windfalls they could earn by listing spare bedrooms on Airbnb.com. Roughly $125 per room per night would not be out of the question. For someone with a four-bedroom house, that translates to $3,500 per week, or $14,000 for a month, if they’re willing to move out for a spell.
If the trial lasts six weeks — probably, it’ll be at least that long — that could put $21,000 in a Roanoke homeowner’s pocket. That’s serious money for us rubes in the unspoiled sticks who don’t even have cable TV or the internet. Heck, we could spend the whole time living it up at Dollywood and still come out way ahead.
Meanwhile, enterprising youngsters could make a killing selling ice-cold water from coolers to all the reporters camped outside the federal courthouse on 90-degree days. In bulk, those bottles cost about 12 cents apiece at Walmart. The kids could easily charge a buck and score profits of 733 percent.
Finally, let’s consider the tourism development potential. Inevitably, the trial will have down time. But the reporters will have to report about something. And that will be all about Roanoke. We’re talking free publicity.
Imagine all the stories about our magnificent neon star atop Mill Mountain. And the eye-popping downtown art museum that looks like a crashed alien space ship. And the wonderful food at the Texas Tavern.
If owner Matt Bullington is smart, he’s already designing T-shirts that say, “Official Grub of the Paul Manafort Trial.”
As for the trial’s official beer, it should be Casey’s Kolsch, the magic portion produced by Big Lick Brewing Co., just a handful of blocks from the courthouse. Soon, that could be one of the most recognized brands in the world.
If the Manafort trial comes here, that is. And if we drag it out long enough, before we find him not guilty, as his lawyers expect.
Let’s pray for that change of venue. We can all make a killing.