March 13, 2019 / 2:22 AM / 5 months ago

For Manafort's sentencing, a trip to the pre-cellphone era

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If you need to get news out of the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, bring plenty of quarters.

Cellphones and laptops aren’t allowed in the building. Cameras and voice recorders are banned as well.

Reporters at the Albert V. Bryan United States Courthouse have two options: run to the pay phone on the second floor, or scramble outside and look for an iPhone stashed away earlier.

On the afternoon of March 7, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was wheeled into a ninth-floor courtroom to learn his fate.

Crippled by gout and wearing a green prison uniform, Manafort faced up to 24 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of hiding millions of dollars from tax authorities and lying to banks about his financial status.

Reuters correspondents Sarah N. Lynch, Andy Sullivan and Jan Wolfe watched from the gallery. Photographer Jim Young and cameraman Gershon Peaks waited on the plaza outside - keeping an eye on the courthouse doors and the correspondents’ phones. Editor Will Dunham and what Reuters calls its “speed team,” which publishes breaking news as quickly as possible, stood ready in the Washington bureau.

It was one of the most important days yet in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had links to or co-ordinated with Russia during the 2016 election.

The biggest news boiled down to one number: the amount of time Manafort would serve behind bars. But other aspects would be important as well. Would Manafort speak? Would Judge T.S. Ellis make any remarks? Would prosecutors reveal anything more about Mueller’s investigation?

As the hearing began, Ellis made clear that he did not want reporters rushing out of the courtroom, and that anyone leaving would not be allowed back in. That prompted reporters Lynch and Sullivan to move to an overflow room, where they could leave without disrupting proceedings. There, they strained to follow the action on a blurry video link. Wolfe remained in the courtroom.

After several hours of legal process, it was time for Manafort to address the court. With no audio recorders allowed, reporters scribbled furiously on legal pads and compared notes to see if they had captured his words correctly. Manafort said he had been “humiliated” by the case, but expressed no contrition. 

Reuters reporter Andy Sullivan leaves the courthouse during the sentencing of Paul Manafort in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

Sullivan dashed down to the pay phone on the second floor, only to find it occupied. Running out of the courthouse, he was met with blinding lights and a volley of questions from television crews who thought he might be bearing news of Manafort’s sentence. “I’m not guilty,” he said to the waiting microphones.

Sullivan retrieved his phone and called the Reuters Washington bureau to report Manafort’s comments. Dunham updated the story and published the latest version for Reuters clients worldwide.

Meanwhile, in the courtroom, the judge sentenced Manafort to slightly less than four years in prison, about one-fifth of the recommended sentence.

Now it was time for Lynch to dash to the second-floor pay phone - which this time was free. She called in the all-important number to the speed team, who issued alerts as Dunham once more updated the story.

Reuters reporter Sarah N. Lynch rushes out of the courthouse after the sentencing of Paul Manafort, Virginia, U.S., March 7, 2019. Picture taken March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

Lynch then sped out of the building to find her phone in order to call in more details to the newsroom, as captured in the first 15 seconds of this Reuters television coverage

Reporting and writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Bill Rigby

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