Trump ex-campaign chief’s trial starts

Trump ex-campaign chief’s trial starts

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Paul Manafort is shown in a sketch as he sits in federal court on the opening day of his trial on bank and tax fraud charges stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, 31 July 2018 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A courtroom sketch shows Mr Manafort seated during the opening day of his trial

The trial of Donald Trump’s ex-election campaign chief is starting, the first to emerge from an inquiry into Russian meddling in the vote.

Paul Manafort faces 18 criminal counts, including bank fraud, and could face up to 30 years in jail if found guilty.

Delivering their opening statements, prosecutors said Mr Manafort placed himself “above the law” and had “lied”.

The former political consultant, who ran the Trump campaign for three months, has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors said on Tuesday that Mr Manafort had attempted to hide tens of millions of dollars of income in 30 foreign bank accounts across three different countries.

They accused him of using the money to fund a lifestyle of properties, cars, clothing and other items, including a $21m (£16m) watch and a jacket that, according to the government lawyer, cost $15,000 and was made from an ostrich.

  • Read more: The man who helped Trump win

None of the charges that Mr Manafort faces at trial on Tuesday relate to the investigation into possible collusion in 2016 between Russia and the Trump campaign.

A jury of six men and six women were seated for the trial in Alexandria, Virginia.

The accused

Before joining Mr Trump’s team in summer 2016, Paul Manafort had worked on a number of Republican presidential campaigns, including those of Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s and Ronald Reagan from 1978 to 1980.

Image copyright Getty Images

Image caption Paul Manafort (L) in 1985 with fellow political consultants Roger Stone (C) and Lee Atwater (R)

As a lobbyist, he developed a reputation for representing the unrepresentable, including former Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who was accused of torturing, abducting and killing thousands of opponents.

Mr Manafort took over as chairman of the Trump campaign in May 2016 and aimed to present a more thoughtful candidate, who stuck to scripts instead of ad-libbing in campaign rallies. He was in the hot seat when Mr Trump eventually won the Republican nomination, and organised the Republican convention in July 2016.

Three more things to read

  • Who’s who in Russia drama?
  • How Trump-Russia scandal has unfolded
  • What is the special counsel?

But Mr Manafort quickly faced allegations that he had not disclosed millions of dollars he received for consultancy work he carried out in Ukraine for its then pro-Russian president. At the same time, the Republican Party changed the language in its manifesto regarding the conflict in Ukraine, removing anti-Russian sentiment.

Mr Manafort quit Mr Trump’s team in August 2016.

Analysis by Tara McKelvey, BBC White House reporter

The West Wing is quiet as Paul Manafort goes on trial: hallways are empty, and TV sets (with Fox News) play softly.

On Tuesday the president tweeted, “collusion is not a crime”. Mr Manafort is not accused of collusion.

But Trump administration officials have joked in the past, using black humour, about the Russia investigation.

The inquiry is focused on a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Mr Manafort and Donald Trump Jr and a Russian informant.

President Trump discussed this encounter with me on Air Force One last year.

Mr Trump is often freewheeling, but he chose his words carefully in that moment and spoke protectively of his son: “He’s a good kid.”

The allegations

More details about Mr Manafort’s work in Ukraine and with Russian nationals are expected to emerge in the 69-year-old’s trial.

Court papers allege that he “generated tens of millions of dollars in income” from his work in Ukraine and “engaged in a scheme to hide income from United States authorities”.

The charges include:

  • Five counts of filing false tax returns
  • Four counts of failure to report foreign bank accounts – prosecutors allege Mr Manafort funnelled millions of dollars through Cyprus, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles
  • Nine counts of bank fraud or bank fraud conspiracy – he is alleged to have made false or misleading statements to three different banks to obtain loans
  • Prosecutors say they will present evidence alleging a senior bank executive helped Mr Manafort get $16m in loans in return for efforts to get him positions on the campaign and in the administration

About 500 pieces of evidence have been submitted by investigators, including luxury watches and pictures of lavish homes, and up to 35 witnesses could be called.

Among them is former Manafort associate Rick Gates, who in February pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and lying to investigators. He has since been co-operating with the investigation into Mr Manafort.

The trial in Virginia is expected to last at least three weeks. Mr Manafort denies all charges, and at one point had sought to get them dismissed.

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Media captionManafort’s indictment: Where did all the money go?

The context

The charges all came about through the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller. So far, 32 people and three companies have been charged by Mr Mueller.

Lawyers for the special counsel have, however, said that “the government does not intend to present at trial evidence or argument concerning collusion with the Russian government”. His investigation is ongoing.

Image copyright Reuters

Image caption Mr Manafort (C) at the Republican National Convention he organised, with Mr Trump and daughter Ivanka Trump

Mr Trump has expressed sympathy for Mr Manafort since the charges were laid, calling him a “nice guy”. He has also put distance between himself and Mr Manafort’s charges, saying in a tweet: “This is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.”

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, has indicated that Mr Trump could pardon Mr Manafort should he be found guilty. “He has a right to consider it,” Mr Giuliani told Reuters. “It’s his power.”

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

At an earlier hearing, a federal judge criticised Mr Mueller’s team and accused it of using Mr Manafort.

“You don’t really care about Mr Manafort’s bank fraud,” Judge TS Ellis said. “What you really care about is what information Mr Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment.”

Mr Manafort faces a second trial in September on charges related to his lobbying work in Ukraine. He also faces an allegation of witness tampering.

On the eve of Tuesday’s case, Mr Manafort abandoned his attempt to challenge Mr Mueller in civil court.

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