What's to Come in the Paul Manafort Fraud Trial
(Bloomberg) -- Paul Manafort’s trial in Alexandria, Virginia, is set to begin Tuesday -- the first courtroom test in U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. This trial has little to do with the election, but much to do with money President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman made while working for the political party of pro-Russian former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych from 2006 to 2014. Manafort faces tax- and bank-fraud charges. Here’s what’s to come:
What Happens Today?
T.S. Ellis III will pick a jury with input from the lawyers, winnowing down an initial pool of 70 to a panel of 12, with four alternates. The judge already excused 27 for a variety of reasons last week. The jury selection process may take a day or two.
What’s Manafort charged with?
The 18-count Alexandria indictment includes five charges of filing false tax returns, five for conspiracy to commit bank fraud, four bank fraud counts and four counts of failing to file reports of his foreign bank and financial accounts with the U.S. Prosecutors say he made more than $60 million as a political consultant in Ukraine and "failed to report a significant percentage of it on his tax returns." They also say Manafort moved money from Cyprus to pay U.S. vendors to fund a lavish lifestyle and avoided paying taxes on income by disguising it as loans from offshore shell companies.
What happens if he’s convicted?
The bank fraud and bank-fraud conspiracy charges each carry maximum sentences of 30 years imprisonment. Manafort, 69, could get five years for each of the so-called FBAR charges -- for failing to file reports of his foreign accounts, while the tax-fraud charges are punishable by as long as three years a piece.
How long will the trial be?
Prosecutors have estimated the trial should last about three weeks, although the judge has asked them to move as quickly as possible.
Who are the witnesses?
The star witness for the prosecution is expected to be Manafort’s former right-hand man, Rick Gates. He pleaded guilty and is cooperating with Mueller. He’s likely to give jurors an inside view on Manafort’s business and insight into its dealings. Gates is among 35 potential witnesses the prosecutors can call. The others include bankers, accountants and even a Yankees’ season-ticket salesman.
Who’s the judge?
T.S. Ellis III is a no-nonsense judge who likes to move quickly. Born in Bogota, Colombia, Ellis served as an aviator in the U.S. Navy and was was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. The 78-year-old graduated from Princeton and has law degrees from Harvard and Oxford. Before becoming a judge, he worked in private practice for Hunton and Williams LLP.
Where does the Russian investigation fit in?
Although Manafort led Trump’s campaign for four months, and took part in a meeting at Trump Tower with several Russians, that’s not likely to come up at the trial. Ellis already laid down the ground rules -- no mention of Mueller’s motives, his Russia investigation and only limited references to Manafort’s role in the campaign. Manafort has also asked to keep the election interference out his Washington case, where he faces separate charges of money laundering, failure to register as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice. That trial is scheduled to start on Sept. 17.
Electronics are banned from the courtroom. Even lawyers had to make formal requests to be allowed to use laptop computers. That makes the trial a challenge to cover for reporters. The press room is limited to those who regularly cover the court -- about five reporters -- while others will either have to race to one of two pay phones in the courthouse (one has been out of order), or go outside to file reports.
(A previous version of this story was corrected to fix the spelling of Colombia.)
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