Manafort Faces September Trial on Charges by Special Prosecutor

(Bloomberg) -- Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman accused of conspiracy and laundering $30 million to support a lavish lifestyle, will go on trial in September in Washington.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday in his first federal court appearance since Special Counsel Robert Mueller unveiled two indictments against him last week. He will be arraigned March 2 in the second case in Alexandria, Virginia.

Manafort Faces September Trial on Charges by Special Prosecutor

The international political consultant entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, who took his first not guilty plea in October. He was indicted then with Rick Gates, his longtime business associate and deputy on the Trump campaign. Last week, Mueller intensified pressure on Manafort by obtaining a guilty plea from Gates and his cooperation.

During the brief hearing Wednesday, Jackson scolded Manafort for issuing a statement last week that said he hoped Gates “would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence.” The judge told him the statement violated her November order barring the parties from trying the case in the press.

"I can certainly understand the impulse to not let that go without asserting your innocence," she said. Jackson then warned him that further violations could lead to punishment.

Mueller is investigating possible Russian collusion with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He accuses Manafort of conspiring against the U.S., money laundering and acting as an unregistered agent of Ukraine in his work there as a political consultant. In the separate Virginia indictment, Manafort is charged with tax crimes and bank fraud.

Prosecutors say Manafort earned tens of millions of dollars during a decade in his Ukrainian work, which he moved to the U.S. through offshore accounts so he could pay for real estate, home improvements, luxury cars, expensive suits, landscaping services, artwork and rugs. Manafort moved the money into the U.S. without paying taxes on the income, according to prosecutors.

In the Alexandria case, prosecutors say he defrauded lenders of more than $20 million by inflating his company’s income and hiding its debt. Parts of Manafort’s alleged fraud took place during and after the several months he spent working on the Trump campaign in 2016. None of the charges relate to the campaign or to colluding with Russia.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Jackson questioned prosecutors about how they’d handle overlapping factual allegations in the two cases, with the Washington trial set for Sept. 17.

"The government is setting itself up to put on the same evidence in different courtrooms," and on different timetables, she said. That could leading to contradictory rulings on the evidence, Jackson said.

Prosecutor Greg Andres told her Mueller’s office would have preferred to file all of the charges in Washington, but Manafort objected to allowing the tax counts to proceed outside Virginia, where he has a home.

Mueller has unveiled charges against 19 people, including five who pleaded guilty and 13 Russians accused of using social media, fake rallies and secretive operatives in the U.S. to create “political intensity” among radical groups, opposition social movements and disaffected voters.

The case is U.S. v Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.