Paul Manafort won’t go to Rikers Island after all.
The former Trump campaign manager, who was convicted on federal bank fraud, tax, and conspiracy charges last summer, was expected to spend time in New York City’s most notorious jail as he awaits trial on New York state charges. But on Tuesday, the Justice Department said he will be kept in federal custody, citing “health and personal safety” concerns for the 70-year-old.
The reprieve comes after the intervention of Jeffrey Rosen, William Barr’s deputy attorney general and Trump’s replacement for Rod Rosenstein. Last week, Rosen surprised New York City prosecutors by sending a letter “inquiring about Mr. Manafort’s case,” the New York Times reports. On Monday, word came down that Manafort would not be going to Rikers, unlike most federal inmates facing state charges.
At Rikers, Manafort was expected to be kept in protective custody, the standard for most high-profile inmates. Instead, he’ll either await trial at a federal jail in Lower Manhattan or in the Pennsylvania prison where he’s serving his seven and a half year sentence.
A senior DOJ official said in a statement Tuesday that the department decided to “err on the side of caution” and grant the request to keep Manafort out of Rikers. But it’s the involvement of the deputy attorney general that is raising eyebrows.
Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutors and CNN legal analyst, tweeted, “It is very unusual — perhaps entirely unprecedented — for such a high-ranking DOJ official to be involved in the specific prison designation for a particular inmate. Anyone else in this situation goes to Rikers and that’s that.”
Honig’s description actually doesn’t go far enough, former federal prosecutor Joyce Alene tweeted. “Calling this highly unusual doesn’t even begin to capture how strange it is for the no. 2 official at DOJ to intervene in a state custody issue,” she wrote.