ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Outside the federal courthouse here, where the trial of Paul Manafort began on Tuesday morning, a handful of protesters had gathered. Lock Him Up one sign implored. Trump won’t do time for you read another. A demonstrator played a snare drum. A bank of cameras in the square across from the red-brick-and-stone courthouse was trained on the front entrance, vainly awaiting Manafort’s arrival. Journalists littered the square itself.
Inside the courtroom, the scene was equally surreal, but for the opposite reason. The room was packed with journalists there to witness the first criminal trial to result from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But all that went unsaid. Judge Tom Ellis has banned references to Russia or collusion in this case, which focuses on bank- and tax-fraud charges to the tune of more than $30 million. Both the prosecution and the defense took care not to mention Mueller or Donald Trump—and even the journalists packing the ninth-floor courtroom shushed each other over the forbidden terms.
Across Jamieson Avenue from the square, the Café Gallery & Market deli was racking up more than its usual breakfast-and-sandwich business. For $2 an item, the eatery takes possession of cellphones, computers, and other electronics, none of which is permitted in the courthouse. (To bring their laptops, even attorneys in active cases must have special permission from a judge.) The café’s storage system is decidedly low-tech: A worker tapes a number on devices, tucks them under the front counter, and hands a matching number to their owners. Multiple items are bound together by rubber bands. “Today is going to be wild,” a staffer warned one journalist dropping off his phone.