Who is Paul Manafort and why is he on trial?

The trial is set to begin in Alexandria, Virginia on 31 July

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Monday 06 August 2018 18:39 BST
Paul Manafort, US President Donald Trump's former 2016 campaign manager, is on trial beginning 31 July 2018 in Virginia.
Paul Manafort, US President Donald Trump's former 2016 campaign manager, is on trial beginning 31 July 2018 in Virginia. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Paul Manafort is on trial as part of the FBI investigation into alleged collusion between the 2016 campaign team he managed for Donald Trump and Russian officials.

He turned himself over to the FBI on 30 October 2017 and faced his indictment of 18 counts, mostly for fraud. Mr Manfort has not pleaded guilty to any of the charges brought on by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Mr Manafort is the first of Mr Trump’s former aides to go on trial and he faces a 30-year sentence at least.

Experts have said the current charged political climate and the judge, Thomas Selby Ellis who is known to be hard on prosecutors, is playing a major role in the outcome of the trial as well.

For his part, the president has called Mr Manafort a “nice guy” who has been treated unfairly by Mr Trump’s opponents and the media. He has repeatedly denied any collusion and called the entire investigation a “witch hunt” on numerous occasions.

Now at the start of its second week, the trial is expected to last approximately three weeks, with Mr Mueller’s part lasting roughly eight to 10 days.

Who is Paul Manafort?

The 69-year-old joined Mr Trump’s presidential campaign as manager in June 2016, taking over from Corey Lewandowski shortly before Mr Trump officially became the Republican candidate.

He resigned from Mr Trump’s presidential campaign in August 2016 after it was discovered he may have illegally received $12m from Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych.

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Mr Manafort had allegedly been working for Mr Yanukovych since 2004.

In February 2017, Mr Manafort’s daughters Andrea, 31, and Jessica, 34, were hacked and several text messages were stolen from them, spanning between October 2012 through September 2016. The texts have been posted to a “darknet” hacker website, according to Politico.

In one text, Andrea Manafort said to her sister: “Don’t fool yourself, that money we have is blood money.”

Ms Manafort may have been referring to her father’s alleged role in the February 2014 Kiev police shootings which resulted in the death of approximately 100 people deemed as pro-West protesters.

Why is he on trial?

He has been charged with 12 counts from the original October 2017 indictment: conspiracy against the US, conspiracy to launder money, being an unregistered foreign agent - namely for Ukraine, lying on foreign agent registration forms, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts as well as not paying taxes on that money.

The indictment alleged both he and deputy campaign manager and his business partner Rick Gates "generated tens of millions of dollars of income as a result of their Ukraine work" from 2006 to 2016 and that in order to hide the profits from US authorities, they laundered the money.

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Mr Mueller also accused the businessman with witness tampering.

FBI Special Agent Brock Domin, in a declaration filed with Mr Mueller’s motion, said Mr Manafort had attempted to call, text, and send encrypted messages in February 2018 to two people from The Hapsburg Group, a firm he had worked with in the past when promoting the interests of Ukraine in the US.

Agents have recovered telephone and text records from Mr Manafort’s iCloud account as evidence of his contact with the two individuals, Mr Domin said.

The longtime foreign political agent was under house arrest at the time of the suspected contact and the new charge prompted Judge Amy Berman to put him in jail instead of remaining on house arrest until the trial.

What can we expect from the trial?

There are 35 potential witnesses and, according to Reuters, “many of them bankers and accountants expected to verify documents and speak to Manafort’s alleged intent to violate the law. Five witnesses were granted immunity”.

Mr Manafort’s lawyers have said they will not be presenting any evidence pertaining to the alleged collusion with Russian officials at the trial, despite their clients’ ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin through Mr Yanukovych and his past work.

Mr Mueller’s team has asked for permission to ask questions regarding his work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, however. The judge has not ruled as yet on that matter.

How could this affect Mr Trump?

It is suspected Mr Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen may be cooperating with Mr Mueller’s team. The potential information could lead prosecutors to make a direct connection between Mr Manafort’s Russian ties and Mr Trump’s campaign.

Last month, Mr Mueller also revealed a $10m loan from Russian aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska to Mr Manafort.

Mr Gates, who pleaded guilty in February to the same charges and is cooperating with prosecutors in Mr Manafort’s trial, is also a liability for the president because he spent several more months with the Trump campaign than his business partner.

Thus far, Mr Mueller’s team has indicted or received guilty please from three companies, 12 Russian intelligence officials, and 32 individuals - including former campaign aide George Papadopoulos and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

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