Ex-Trump aide Manafort goes on trial in Russian Federation probe

Thursday, 02 Aug, 2018

US prosecutors on Tuesday portrayed President Donald Trump's onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort as someone who hid his wealth from political work in Ukraine, as the first trial began arising from an investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 USA election.

The indictment was brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, the former Federal Bureau of Investigation director who is looking into Russian meddling in the presidential election, but the charges are not connected to Manafort's time as Trump's campaign chairman.

Defense lawyers also sought to address head-on Manafort's wealth and the images of a gaudy lifestyle that jurors are expected to see during the trial. Prosecutors questioned veteran political consultant Daniel Rabin about the work he did for Manafort. He's on trial for bank fraud and tax evasion charges.

Still, the trial pulled back the curtain on the former lobbyist who steered Trump's election efforts for a time, including descriptions of Manafort's $15,000 jacket made of ostrich and the more than $6 million in cash he put toward real estate.

The suggestion in court Wednesday that prosecutors may not ask Gates to testify apparently surprised even Judge T.S. Ellis - who retorted: "This is news to me".

The charges focus on millions of dollars Manafort is accused of hiding while working for the Ukrainian government, as well as how he allegedly tried to keep money coming in after that job ended.

Prosecutors are expected to say that his life of luxury did not match what he had declared on his tax returns.

Asonye assured jurors Tuesday that the evidence will eventually show how Manafort "constantly issued orders" and "directed" the activities of his associates, including Gates.

"Let's move it along", Ellis said repeatedly.

A prosecutor showed Mikuska and the jury a series of invoices, including for home improvement work, that were seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the August 2017 raid.

"Mr. Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle", Ellis said.

On the term "oligarchs", Ellis said use of the word implied that Manafort was associating with "despicable people and therefore he's despicable".

In response, Asonye said, "Well your honor, we constantly re-evaluate by the evidence that comes in".

Matthew Mikuska, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, described on Wednesday how agents approached Manafort's tony condominium last summer, knocking three times before ultimately gaining entrance to the "large, luxury unit" using a key.

The prosecution could be rethinking whether Gates, who pleaded guilty in February to money laundering charges in exchange for offering information on Manafort, will help them, multiple experts said. Last month, Mueller's team disclosed in a court filing what it said was a $10 million loan to Manafort from Oleg Deripaska, a magnate with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Manafort's defense team had accused Gates of being the actual brains behind Manafort's alleged financial misdeeds in their opening statement less than 24 hours before. Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. Several Republican lawmakers said Mueller should be allowed to complete his investigation. Gates also worked as an aide on Trump's campaign.

"Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn't matter because there was No Collusion (except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats)!"

The question of collusion with Russian Federation is not at the heart of the case against Manafort - the charges largely pre-date the five months he worked for Trump during a pivotal period in the 2016 race for the White House, some of them as campaign chairman.