The first trial of President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort has now concluded with his conviction on 8 of 18 counts. A verdict could not be reached on the remaining 10. Manafort has long been a person of interest in the Russian Collusion investigation, stemming from his close ties to Moscow and the work he and Roger Stone did for Trump in the 1980’s as a lobbyist. Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, the firm Manafort helped start, lobbied on gambling and real estate issues on behalf of Trump in the 1980’s. The firm also worked on behalf of the Nigerian and Kenyan governments in 1991, who at that point where well known for human rights abuses, as well as Angolan rebels and associates of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It should come as no surprise then Manafort went on much later to work for pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, helping him win the election in 2010. Yanukovych was ousted from power in 2014. Manafort’s Moscow ties go deeper than his connections to Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort’s tax records from Cyprus, a known tax haven, show that prior to joining the Trump campaign, he was in debt to pro-Russian interests as deeply as $17 million.
Manafort was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in October of 2017 for 12 counts related to money laundering, tax fraud, and making false statements. In February of this year, a grand jury added additional charges against Manafort and his associate Rick Gates stemming from income tax and bank fraud related to their work for Viktor Yanukovych. This past June, Mueller brought further charges against Manafort, this time for obstruction of justice for trying to influence potential witnesses while out on bail. Subsequently, Judge Amy Berman Jackson revoked Manafort’s bail and ordered he remain in jail pending trial.
After delays and a denied request to change the trial’s location, the first trial began on July 31st (Manafort’s second trial, for money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent, begins September 17th). On day one, Prosecutors allege that Manafort “believed the law did not apply to him.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye stated that “A man in the courtroom believed the law did not apply to him, not the tax laws, not the banking laws. That man is the defendant, Paul Manafort.” Asonye further argued that “Paul Manafort placed himself and his money over the law.” Judge Ellis warned Asonye to stick strictly to the evidence, interrupting his description of Manafort’s lavish spending habits. Asonye maintained that Manafort “regularly lied about his business and income, and… directed staffers to file falso tax returns to deceive the U.S. government.” He also argued that Manafort was “Paid handsomely” by oligarchs who funded the campaign.
The prosecution rested its case after 10 days of testimony. The prosecution’s final witness was a Treasury Department agent who testified that “Manafort’s consulting companies did not disclose their foreign bank accounts.” Over two dozen witnesses testified that Manafort earned in the neighbourhood of $60 million as a political consultant for pro-Russian elements in Ukraine, and that the money was stashed in as many as 31 offshore bank accounts. There were also depictions of Manafort’s lavish lifestyle, “half a million dollars [sic] worth of antique rugs, $750,000 spent on landscaping for his $13 million Bridgehampton mansion, and more than $1 million for clothing, including a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich skin.”
Perhaps the most damning testimony came from Rick Gates, who “testified at length about the criminal activity he said he was involved with and at the behest of Manafort, his former business partner.” Government witnesses stated that Manafort hid more than $16 million from the IRS. The defense attempted to portray Rick Gates as the real criminal, and Manafort as merely a patsy. The defense rested without calling any witnesses, claiming that the government “failed to meet its burden of proof.” The defense rested without calling any witnesses.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Richard Westling said that “Manafort became the special counsel’s victim in a ‘selective process of pulling’ his financial records to concoct a narrative of an ‘elaborate fraud scheme.’” The defense’s key strategy seemed to be the discrediting of key witnesses, and the portrayal of Manafort’s’ trial as a targeted attack by special counsel Mueller. Westling urged the jury to “hold the government to its burden,” meaning the burden of proof.
As the date of Manafort’s second trial nears, the stakes are certainly looking even higher for Manafort. When all is said and done, if he is convicted of more of charges brought against him, Manafort is looking at life in prison. Mark Corallo, from Trump’s legal team put it aptly, “the din of the verdict will be deafening.” This has indeed been the case, as Manafort’s conviction seems to have added even more intensity to talks of impeachment, and it would seem that Trump will not be able to passively deny his involvement for much longer.
Whether or not Manafort’s conviction is the first domino remains to be seen, but it does certainly seem to vindicate Mueller. All the while, Trump continues to refrain his now iconic line “rigged witch hunt” all across twitter. Meanwhile, rumors of a presidential pardon continue to swirl. Rudy Giuliani has stated in the past that a pardon is possible, and that the president is fully within his rights to do so. Trump stated publicly that he has considered a Manafort pardon. However, Sarah Sanders later stated in a press brief that Trump is not considering a pardon for Manafort, adding yet another conflicting statement to the ever growing rift between the president’s statements and those of his press secretary.
Manafort’s second trial date is set for September 12th in Washington, D.C. A federal judge refused Manafort’s request to move the trial to Roanoke, and has stated that 12 jurors were found who could judge the case without bias.
This Entry into our Russia Blog post was submitted by Thomas Wesley: Contact: Tom@usreaistnews.org