Trial begins for Trump's former campaign chair, Paul Manafort

Leroy Wright
August 2, 2018

The judge in Manafort's trial told prosecutors not to use the word "oligarch" to describe wealthy Ukrainians who paid millions to the former Trump campaign chairman.

It's a day that featured testimony from five witnesses - including Sen. Bernie Sanders, Al Gore and John Kerry.

Manafort faces a maximum of 305 years in prison if he is convicted on all charges.

Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud related to his lobbying activities on behalf of the former Russian-backed government of Ukraine.

After opening statements, the jury heard from the government's first witness, Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who testified about his collaborations with Manafort on behalf of Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions.

The judge said the term has a "pejorative" meaning and is not relevant in this case. Manafort has filed a motion to have details of that work excluded from trial.

Though prosecutors made no reference to Trump nor discussed in any way Manafort's leadership of the Trump campaign, Manafort's case is nonetheless widely viewed as a test to the legitimacy of Mueller's ongoing probe, which Trump has dismissed as a "witch hunt".

Mr. Trump emphasized that the charges against Mr. Manafort have nothing to do with possible collusion between Russians and Trump campaign officials, and he called the investigation "a hoax".

On Monday, prosecutors said in court filings that they meant to prove Manafort earned more than $60 million lobbying for the former pro-Russia Ukrainian government and failed to report "a significant percentage" of that.

"All of this was willful", Asonye said. "We're trying to shorten the trial".

Manafort's attorneys have argued that Gates - who has been cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice - embezzled money from Manafort and then turned against him to save himself from jail time.

Discrediting the prosecutor's witnesses is a common defense strategy.

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

The allegations came during opening statements Tuesday in the Paul Manafort trial. Gates embezzled money from Manafort.

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Gates was named as a co-defendant in the initial indictment handed down against Manafort last October.

Judge Ellis was not messing around.

But assistant United States attorney Uzo Asonye said of Gates: "He may testify, he may not".

Manhattan's Alan Couture was the beneficiary of much of Manafort's spending.

Wald said Manafort made payments through wire transfers from an account based in Cyprus.

He said Gates took advantage of his position overseeing day-to-day operations of Manafort's consulting firm. But that isn't a focus of this trial.

Prosecutors also accuse him of lying to USA banks to obtain real estate loans in a bid to maintain a lavish lifestyle after his client, former pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, fell from power in 2014 and the money stopped.

Manafort is also due to face other charges in a separate trial in Washington. Ellis urged them to consider reducing that amount Tuesday.

If you've been reading Law&Crime lately, you would know that we warned Manafort's attorneys not to get cute with this judge.

"The government doesn't want to prosecute someone for wearing nice clothes", he said at one point, pushing the prosecutors to move on.

Prosecutors so far have not shown jurors anything that indicates Manafort broke the law.

Giuliani said he and Jay Sekulow, another Trump lawyer, had told the president: "This would be a very bad thing to do now". "It's evidence of his income". It is set to last at least three weeks.

Asonye also told Ellis that prosecutors expect to rest their case next week, noting that they are "ahead of schedule".

Overall, anti-fraud investigators at Wells Fargo, following a tip from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, flagged almost $300,000 in "suspicious" transactions by Butina and Erickson, saying in some cases the activity had no "apparent economic, business, or lawful objective".

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