A coalition of news outlets, including CNN, The New York Times, BuzzFeed and The Washington Post, want the federal judge presiding over the Paul Manafort trial to unseal the names and addresses of the jurors deliberating on the case.
The judge, T.S. Ellis III, agreed to hear arguments about the disclosure during a hearing scheduled for 2 p.m. on Friday.
“A thirsty press is essential to a free country,” Ellis said in court when addressing the media companies’ motion.
He also urged the news outlets, which are being represented by the firm Ballard Spahr, to appeal his decision should he rule against publicizing the jury’s information.
Manafort is accused of evading taxes on income he received from his work on behalf of a Ukrainian political party through 2014, well before he joined the Trump campaign. The jury began deliberating on Thursday.
Media requests for jurors’ names and addresses is not uncommon in high-profile cases, and federal courts have ruled that the information can be made public except under certain circumstances.
The news outlets cited previous rulings that allow for the release of jurors’ names and addresses except in cases “when there is strong reason to conclude that the jury needs protection from interference or harm, or that the integrity of the jury’s function will be compromised if the jury does not remain anonymous.”
“Here, there is no reason to believe that extraordinary circumstances exist that would justify keeping jurors’ names sealed — particularly after they have rendered their verdict,” reads the motion.
“This is not a case involving organized crime or other circumstances in which the potential for violence or corruption requires an anonymous jury.”
“The Media Coalition is unaware of any credible threats of physical harm or other retaliation against jurors that would override the presumption that their names are matters of public record.”
One possible concern about releasing the jurors’ information is that politically charged nature of the case.
Manafort is the highest-profile indictment brought so far by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation.
Although Mueller & Co. did not present evidence of collusion involving Manafort, a “not guilty” verdict would give President Trump and his supporters room to criticize Mueller’s investigation.
Trump has called the probe a “witch hunt.” On Friday, he said that the case against Manafort was “very sad.”
Politico and NBC News are also included in the Media Coalition.
In addition to jury information, the media outlets are asking Ellis to release several exhibits that were submitted under seal.
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