Manafort trial to focus on lavish lifestyle, not collusion

Trial will give public a glimpse of the evidence Mueller's team has collected

By Eric Tucker and Chad Day
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The trial of President Donald Trump's onetime campaign chairman will open this week with tales of lavish spending, secret shell companies and millions of dollars of Ukrainian money flowing through offshore bank accounts and into the political consultant's pocket.

What's likely to be missing: answers about whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election, or really any mention of Russia at all.

Paul Manafort's financial crimes trial, the first arising from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, will center on his Ukrainian consulting work and only briefly touch on his involvement with the president's campaign.

But the broader implications are unmistakable.

The trial, scheduled to begin Tuesday with jury selection in Alexandria, Virginia, will give the public its most detailed glimpse of evidence Mueller's team has spent the year accumulating. It will feature testimony about the business dealings and foreign ties of a defendant Trump entrusted to run his campaign during a critical stretch in 2016, including during the Republican convention. And it will unfold at a delicate time for the president as Mueller's team presses for an interview and as Trump escalates his attacks on an investigation he calls a "witch hunt."

Adding to the intrigue is the expected spectacle of Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates, testifying against him after cutting a plea deal with prosecutors, and the speculation that Manafort, who faces charges in two different courts and decades in prison if convicted, may be holding out for a pardon from Trump.

Manafort was indicted along with Gates in Mueller's wide-ranging investigation, but he is the only American charged to opt for a trial instead of cooperating with the government. The remaining 31 individuals charged have either reached plea agreements, including ex-White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, or are Russians seen as unlikely to enter an American courtroom. Three Russian companies have also been charged.

Prosecutors in Manafort's case have said they may call 35 witnesses, including five who have immunity agreements, as they try to prove that he laundered more than $30 million in Ukrainian political consulting proceeds and concealed the funds from the IRS.

Jurors are expected to see photographs of his Mercedes-Benz and of his Hampton property putting green and swimming pool. There's likely to be testimony, too, about tailored Beverly Hills clothing, high-end antiques, rugs and art and New York Yankees seasons tickets.

The luxurious lifestyle was funded by Manafort's political consulting for the pro-Russian Ukrainian political party of Viktor Yanukovych, who was deposed as Ukraine's president in 2014.

Lawyers have tangled over how much jurors will hear of his overseas political work, particularly about his ties to Russia and other wealthy political figures.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who will preside over the trial, warned prosecutors to restrain themselves, noting how "most people in this country don't distinguish between Ukrainians and Russians."

While jurors will be hearing painstaking detail about Manafort's finances, they won't be told about Manafort's other criminal case, in the nation's capital, where he faces charges of acting as an unregistered foreign agent and lying to the government.

Published: Tue, Jul 31, 2018

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