Manafort Case Goes to Trial, But Don’t Expect to Hear Evidence of Collusion
The much-anticipated trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort begins Tuesday, but observers hoping for evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia are likely to be disappointed.
Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller plan to call nearly three dozen witnesses and introduce 500 pieces of evidence in an effort to show that Manafort engaged in bank fraud and evaded taxes on income he received for work on behalf of a Ukrainian politician.
Among the witnesses are Manafort’s accountants and Rick Gates, a former Manafort business partner and Trump campaign aide who accepted a plea deal with Mueller in February. Tad Devine, the chief strategist for the Bernie Sanders campaign, is also on the witness list. Devine worked with Manafort on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine.
But the prosecutors, led by Andrew Weissmann, a Justice Department official who attended Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated Election Night party, have no plans to introduce evidence of a conspiracy between the campaign and the Kremlin.
“The government does not intend to present at trial evidence or argument concerning collusion with the Russian government,” reads a July 6 court filing, which was submitted in federal court in Virginia, where jury selection is scheduled to begin in the Manafort case on Tuesday.
The focus at trial will be Manafort’s work from 2005 through 2014 for the Party of Regions, a Ukrainian political party that was affiliated with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort joined the Trump campaign in April 2016 and left in August, following reports about his work for Yanukovych.
Manafort was paid $60 million for the work, but prosecutors claim he failed to report all of the income on his taxes. The 68-year-old political operative used offshore companies as part of the scheme and spent lavishly on cars, exotic rugs, fancy Italian suits and a house in the Hamptons, Mueller’s team plans to show.
Ever since Manafort was indicted on Oct. 30, Trump critics have held out hope that Manafort would flip on Trump and offer evidence of collusion.
Mueller’s heavy-handed prosecutorial tactics have also generated speculation that he was vying for a Manafort plea deal. Mueller has fought to keep Manafort in jail while he awaits trial while slapping him with additional charges both in the Virginia case and in federal court in Washington, D.C.
Manafort goes to trial there in September on charges related to his work as an unregistered foreign agent of the Ukrainian government.
Manafort’s team insists that the Virginia charges are an overhyped tax case that has almost nothing to do with the Trump campaign. Manafort’s lawyers have also questioned the timing of the indictments, pointing out that the Justice Department began investigating Manafort in 2014 but declined to bring charges at the time.
Manafort’s lawyers have also noted that Weissmann, known as Mueller’s “pit bull,” convened a meeting in April 2017 with Associated Press reporters to discuss the Manafort case. According to notes taken by two FBI agents at the meeting, Weissmann and other Justice Department officials provided the reporters with limited guidance on the case.
The White House has claimed that Manafort has nothing damaging to offer prosecutors on Trump. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Monday that he knows “for a fact” that Manafort “has no information incriminating of the president.”
“They can squeeze him — he doesn’t know anything,” Giuliani said in an interview on CNN’s New Day.
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