Manafort trial: Former Trump campaign manager appears at court over tax evasion and fraud charges

Prosecutors don't expect word 'Russia' to be mentioned as first court case of Mueller probe begins

Tom Barnes
Tuesday 31 July 2018 13:20 BST
Paul Manafort is the first former Trump aide to face trial as a result of the Mueller probe
Paul Manafort is the first former Trump aide to face trial as a result of the Mueller probe (Reuters)

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort is to appear on Tuesday in a federal courtroom accused of tax evasion and bank fraud charges.

Charges against Mr Trump’s former aide have been brought as a result of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 14-month probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

While that investigation focuses on whether Moscow interfered in the poll and if there were any attempts by the president to obstruct justice, these topics are not expected to be covered in the trial.

In fact, prosecutors said last week they do not expect the word “Russia” to be mentioned at all, instead centring their case on his Ukrainian consulting work with only brief mentions of his involvement with the campaign.

But the trial may produce politically damaging headlines about a man who ran Mr Trump’s campaign for three months and attended a June 2016 meeting with Russians offering damaging information about his boss’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Prosecutors are likely to argue Mr Manafort’s lavish spending on luxury goods did not match his declared income on tax returns.

They say 35 witnesses and more than 500 pieces of evidence will show how he earned more than $60m (£47m) from his Ukrainian work and then concealed a “significant percentage” of that money from the IRS.

They will also argue that he misled lenders to borrow tens of millions of dollars against New York real estate during his time on the Trump presidential campaign.

The lobbyist has pleaded not guilty, but faces 18 charges, with the nine bank fraud and conspiracy charges carrying maximum sentences of 30 years each.

Veteran district court judge TS Ellis, who will preside over the trial, has already noted Mr Manafort could face the rest of his life behind bars if the allegations are proven.

Mr Mueller's team said it would not present evidence about any possible campaign collusion with Russia at the trial in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia.

The bulk of this information looks set to be saved for a potential second Manafort trial in Washington in September.

Despite this, prosecutors have asked permission to discuss Mr Manafort's work for pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine, which they allege was a source of wealth he laundered through overseas bank accounts.

Mr Manafort is seeking to exclude information on the details of that work. The judge has yet to rule.

“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 is aiding the Mueller probe after accepting a plea deal in February.

“He could expose himself to further criminal culpability if he has to expose the full extent of those ties.”

Expected to be a key witness, Mr Gates was Mr Manafort's right-hand man for years and has knowledge of their offshore accounts, of the relationship with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, and other work in Ukraine.

Mr Mueller's team has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 people and three companies, including the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officials.

Of the four former Trump aides ensnared in the probe, Mr Manafort is the only one to go to trial.

Mr Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser on the campaign, all have pleaded guilty to various charges resulting from the investigation.

Mr Trump denies any collusion, but has struggled to control damage from his acceptance of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s denials Moscow interfered in the election over American intelligence agencies’ conclusion that it did.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in