All eyes on Virginia court as Paul Manafort's fraud trial begins

Lester Mason
Августа 1, 2018

While Manafort is being charged for bank and tax fraud, his misadventures as a lobbyist play a broader role in Mueller's investigation into Russian election tampering during the 2016 race.

While the main areas of Mueller's investigation are Russia's actions during the 2016 presidential election and any attempts by Trump to obstruct justice, none of those topics are expected to come up in Manafort's trial. It opened with extraordinary anticipation amid unresolved questions about whether Trump associates coordinated with the Kremlin to tip the election in the president's favor. "The court will provide your lunch, every day", he said.

Prosecutors are seeking to provide details of Manafort's work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, raising the possibility that new information about his Russian connections could emerge.

Outside the courthouse, a handful of protesters displayed a life-sized puppet of Mr Trump and held signs saying "Trump won't do time for you", "It's Mueller time", and "I like your new suit" alongside a photo of Mr Manafort's mug shot.

Manafort's defense team, meanwhile, pointed blame at his longtime deputy Rick Gates, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to investigators after being charged alongside Manafort.

Unlike his former colleague Rick Gates, Mr Manafort has not co-operated with the special counsel investigation.

He warned jurors not to believe Gates when he testifies against Manafort later in the trial.

"Money's coming in fast". Mr Manafort denies all charges, and at one point had sought to get them dismissed.

Mr Manafort, who has been jailed for almost two months, wore a black suit and appeared fully engaged in his defence, whispering with his lawyers during jury selection and scribbling notes as the prosecution began its opening statement.

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Prosecutors want to show memos, campaign ad scripts, political rally plans and other work Manafort did in an effort to prove that he made over $60million off the Party of Regions and its leader, Viktor Yanukovych, between 2005 and 2014. It will feature testimony about the business dealings and foreign ties of a defendant Trump entrusted to run his campaign during a critical stretch in 2016, including during the Republican convention.

To avoid paying hefty taxes, prosecutors say, they set up secret shell companies and offshore accounts to funnel their Ukrainian proceeds disguised as "loans" to US accounts to buy multimillion dollar properties and luxury goods. The added evidence also appears to include documents related to bank accounts in Cyprus.

Manafort is accused of trying to hide tens of millions of dollars in Ukrainian political consulting fees and using that money to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Mr. Manafort sat with his lawyers on Tuesday, with his wife behind him.

"Paul Manafort travels in circles that most people will never know and he's gotten handsomely rewarded for it", Zehnle said. Opening statements were expected later in the afternoon.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis made several jokes during the jury selection process, including about the quality of the lunches jurors will be provided.

"There was No Collusion (except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats)!"

At the center of much of the trial will be Gates, another Trump campaign aide who spent years working for Manafort in Ukraine and is also accused of helping him falsify paperwork used to obtain the bank loans. It involves allegations that he acted as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukrainian interests and made false statements to the US government.

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