Tuesday Reads: Paul Manafort Goes On Trial In VirginiaPosted: July 31, 2018
Today is the first day of jury selection for Paul Manafort’s trial for fraud against the U.S. This one won’t be about the 2016 Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. In fact, the judge ordered the prosecution to limit mention of Manafort’s role in the campaign; the second Manafort trial in DC will deal with that. However, the information that comes out in the fraud trial will reveal unsavory facts about the GOP’s financial dealings.
Most tax and bank fraud cases are built on stacks of bland business documents and Internal Revenue Service paperwork — hardly the stuff of international intrigue.
But the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, which began Tuesday in a suburban Washington, D.C., courthouse, promises to upend those low expectations.
Lawyers working for special counsel Robert Mueller plan to call witnesses they say demonstrate where Manafort spent his allegedly ill-gotten gains: custom-made suits; Persian rugs; landscaping fees; Land Rovers and Mercedes-Benz vehicles; and season tickets to the New York Yankees, among other items.
It’s what may not come up much during the trial in Alexandria, Va., that will draw attention from all over the world: Manafort’s work for candidate Donald Trump for a critical period in 2016 when Trump clinched the Republican nomination for president.
In pretrial arguments, prosecutor Greg Andres told the court the government would only bring up Manafort’s campaign work in the context of a witness from a bank who gave him a loan, with the expectation that the banker would win consideration for a post in the Trump administration.
“I don’t anticipate that a government witness will utter the word ‘Russia,’ ” Andres said.
Manafort’s defense team has argued any mention of Trump could be seized on by jurors who have an unfavorable view of the president.
Natasha Bertrand at The Atlantic: Paul Manafort’s Trial Won’t Be All About Russia.
Instead, prosecutors will outline the alleged financial crimes committed by Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort while he worked as an adviser to Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych—work that earned Manafort more than $60 million over the course of a decade, according to court documents filed by Mueller on Monday, which he allegedly laundered and concealed from the IRS. Jurors will be presented with evidence of Manafort’s lavish lifestyle, including multimillion-dollar homes, expensive cars, Major League Baseball tickets, and antique carpets. The government could call as many as 35 witnesses to testify, including Manafort’s longtime business partner Rick Gates.
Additionally, Manafort was reportedly in debt to pro-Russian interests by as much as $17 million by the time he joined the Trump campaign, which he ran at the height of the 2016 presidential election. One of the biggest outstanding questions in the Mueller probe is whether Manafort gave a Kremlin-linked Russian oligarch access to the campaign in exchange for debt relief. But Mueller may also have other ambitions—like flipping Manafort.
Experts disagree about whether that is likely to happen once the trial begins.
Trump and his allies have sought to downplay the trial, claiming that it has nothing to do with either the president or a conspiracy with Russia to win the election. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told CNN on Monday that because Manafort was only with Trump “for four months,” he had no special insight that would incriminate the president. Manafort was forced to step down as Trump’s campaign chairman in August 2016 after reports surfaced that he was allocated millions in off-the-books payments by Ukraine’s pro-Russian Party of Regions, but his work with Trump did not end there: He continued to give Trump “pointers” on how to handle the WikiLeaks dump of the Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, according to Politico, and his deputy, Rick Gates, stayed and worked on Trump’s transition team. Manafort “insinuated himself” into the transition through Gates, CNN reported at the time.
Manafort may be hoping Trump will pardon him after discovery in the first trial becomes public.
“It makes no sense for a defendant to choose two trials because the prosecution is the only party that benefits from two bites at the apple (since one conviction is all it needs),” [former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York Daniel] Goldman said. “So the only sensible explanation for the course Manafort has chosen is that he is playing the long game and hoping for a pardon, because he can claim that Mueller exceeded his authority in charging him with crimes that preceded the campaign and he was therefore ‘treated unfairly,’ which has resonated in the past with the President in granting pardons.”
Read the whole thing at The Atlantic. Bertrand is one of the most knowledgeable reporters on the Russia investigation.
I suggest reading this Twitter thread by Teri Kanefield on why the trial is important even though it won’t address Russia collusion.
Read the rest on Twitter.
The trial on Manafort’s financial dealings will hang over the White House and show just how deeply federal authorities have looked into the private business of Trump associates.
It comes as the President continues to rail against Mueller’s investigation, calling it a “witch hunt,” and some congressional Republicans are looking to impeach the Justice Department official overseeing the Muller probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Trump weighed in on the Mueller probe Tuesday morning, reiterating a defense made by his attorney Rudy Giuliani that “collusion is not a crime,” even though actions such as conspiracy can be criminal.
The trial in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, is expected to last three weeks. Jury selection will begin Tuesday, with opening arguments likely later this week. Manafort is also scheduled to face trial in Washington, DC, on related charges in September.
The case against Manafort doesn’t focus on his time as chairman of the Trump campaign in 2016. Manafort is charged with 18 violations of tax and banking laws. Prosecutors claim he hid millions of dollars in income from lobbying for Ukrainian politicians, all while failing to pay taxes and spending the money on US real estate and personal luxury purchases.
When his Ukrainian political work dried up in 2015, prosecutors say Manafort lied to banks to take out more than $20 million in loans. They accuse him of hiding his foreign bank accounts from federal authorities. Manafort also allegedly received loans from the Federal Savings Bank after one of its executives sought a position in the Trump campaign and administration, prosecutors say.
If found guilty, Manafort could face a maximum sentence of 305 years in prison.
CBS will provide live updates on the trial:
Before Manafort attorney Kevin Downing entered the courtroom Tuesday morning, he told CBS News’ Paula Reid that there is “no chance” Manafort will cooperate with prosecutors or enter a plea deal. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Tuesday morning that there has been no discussion of a potential pardon by President Trump of Manafort. Still, Reid points out that the pardon power is broad enough for Mr. Trump to pardon Manafort at any time for the crimes he has been charged with in Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Jury selection is underway this morning. Twelve jurors will be selected this week. The pool of potential jurors is being questioned by both sides and by U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III at the bench. There are 65 potential jurors — 32 men and 33 women — and the vast majority of the pool is white, CBS News’ Clare Hymes and Kristine Guillaume note. During the questioning, Judge Ellis asked if any in the pool had affiliations with the Justice Department. Nine out of the 65 said they did, but they all said that this affiliation would not cause bias for them….
Prosecutors have lined up 35 witnesses and over 500 pieces of evidence they say will show how Manafort earned more than $60 million from his Ukrainian work and then concealed a “significant percentage” of that money from the IRS. Prosecutors will also argue that Manafort fraudulently obtained millions more in bank loans, including during his time on the campaign.
And they plan to introduce evidence that a chairman of one of the banks allowed Manafort to file inaccurate loan information in exchange for a role on the Republican campaign and the promise of a job in the Trump administration that never materialized.
This morning, Manfort lost his final appeal asking to be freed before his trial in DC in September. Bloomberg:
Paul Manafort will have to stay in jail ahead of his money-laundering and obstruction of justice trial in Washington, which is scheduled to start Sept. 17.
The U.S. Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected Manafort’s appeal of a judge’s order sending him to jail before the trial, after Special Counsel Robert Mueller accused Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman of attempting to tamper with witnesses.
Yesterday he dropped another appeal leading up to the Virginia trial. Bloomberg: Manafort Drops Case Challenging Mueller on Eve of Fraud Trial.
Just a day before his fraud trial was set to begin in Virginia, Paul Manafort dropped his civil lawsuit challenging the authority of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to charge him with crimes unrelated to his role as President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman.
Manafort, 69, abandoned his appeal late Monday of a judge’s dismissal of his lawsuit in federal court in Washington. The judge ruled in April that Manafort’s criminal case, and not a civil lawsuit, was the proper venue for challenging the Justice Department’s appointment of Mueller to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The civil lawsuit ended when Manafort filed a stipulation of voluntary dismissal with Justice Department attorneys, who were defending Mueller and the official overseeing his work, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
So that’s a bit of a primer on the first Manafort trial. One thing I heard yesterday is that Manafort’s lawyers will get discovery of the entire prosecution case against him and that means there could be leaks of evidence to be present in the second trial in D.C.
What stories are you following today?