Former Trump aide Paul Manafort, 69, will go on trial Tuesday, accused of bank and tax fraud by special counsel Robert Mueller's team of investigators. In a Monday court filing, Manafort is accused of earning more than $60 million as a political consultant in Ukraine, providing the first insight into income that he "failed to report a significant percentage of" on his tax returns, according to prosecutors.
While the trial will focus on financial crimes that have nothing to do with Trump or his 2016 campaign, it should nonetheless provide fireworks as Manafort is accused of a wide variety of crimes, including laundering $30 million through offshore entities, doctoring financial documents, defrauding banks and lying to tax preparers - much of which was done while working for a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party along with lobbyist Tony Podesta.
Manafort and Podesta made millions together in Ukraine without registering as foreign agents - except Podesta had the uncanny foresight to retroactively file as a foreign agent last April, while Manafort did not as noted in the original 12-count indictment handed down last October.
“My guess is you will see O.J.-type frenzy at this court event,” said Michael Caputo, a former Trump aide and longtime Manafort associate, referring to the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder case. “I really hope the president continues to watch and make public comments about this case.” -Reuters
Caputo says that Trump's comments will help the public to understand what's at stake in the Mueller probe - which Trump and his supporters refer to as a "witch hunt" aimed at ending his presidency.
The special counsel is planning to call 35 witnesses in the case, including his former right-hand man Rick Gates - Mueller's star witness who pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the investigation.
Gates, who pleaded guilty and is cooperating with Mueller, is expected to be the prosecution’s star witness. He will guide jurors through bank records and other financial documents as prosecutors try to prove that Manafort earned millions of dollars as a political consultant in Ukraine, failed to disclose his income and offshore accounts to U.S. tax authorities and lied to lenders in borrowing $20 million. -Bloomberg
Another witness will be Bernie Sanders' chief strategist, Tad Devine, who worked with Manafort in Ukraine and revealed on Thursday that he is cooperating with Mueller's investigation after his name appeared in an itemized list of evidence in the Manafort trial on Wednesday.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty in what has grown to an 18-count indictment. The nine bank fraud and conspiracy charges alone carry 30-year maximum sentences each, meaning a conviction could send Manafort behind bars for the rest of his life - an observation pointed out by Judge T.S. Ellis.
While Ellis rejected Manafort's motion to dismiss due to the fact that the charges against him are outside the scope of Mueller's Russia investigation, the 78-year-old Judge is known to be tough on prosecutors, and has openly said that the politically charged climate increases the chance of a hung jury.
Mueller's team - which says it will not present any evidence about possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia, estimates that Manafort's trial could take 8 to 10 days to present its case to the jury, while the trial itself may last at least three weeks. And while Mueller won't broach potential Trump ties to Russia, prosecutors may dig deeper into Manafort's Russian connections - such as an alleged $10 million loan from Oleg Deripaska - a businessman known to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It seems to me we’re seeing deeper ties that Manafort has had financially with his business deals in the Ukraine and with Russia,” said Shanlon Wu, a former lawyer for Manafort associate Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty in February and is aiding Mueller’s probe. “He could expose himself to further criminal culpability if he has to expose the full extent of those ties.” -Reuters
Some legal experts have speculated that Manafort may be counting on an eventual pardon from President Trump - who has called his former aide and short-term campaign chairman a "nice guy" who has been treated unfairly.
Manafort was fired within 48 hours of Trump's first national security briefing as a candidate, which suggests that he was informed of ongoing investigations against the lobbyist.
Rudy Giuliani, while not ruling out a pardon, said that nobody facing trial should expect one.
Giuliani said he and Jay Sekulow, another Trump lawyer, had told the president: “This would be a very bad thing to do now.”
But once Mueller’s Russia investigation ends, Giuliani told Reuters, “he has a right to consider it ... It’s his power.” -Reuters
Tomorrow's jury pool was narrowed from 73 to 43, with jury selection starting first thing in the morning.