Manafort Trial Nears End Of Second Day, Trump Calls For Probe Shutdown
By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — The trial of U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has nearly completed its second day in a federal court in the state of Virginia as Trump called on his attorney general to shut down the related probe of Russian election meddling.
Trump early on August 1 wrote on Twitter that “this is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further.”
“Russian Collusion with the Trump Campaign, one of the most successful in history, is a TOTAL HOAX,” Trump added.
During the first day, U.S. prosecutors depicted Manafort as a tax evader who hid millions of dollars he earned from his political work for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, in the first trial arising from the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Manafort lived extravagantly, buying expensive homes and cars and spending more than $500,000 on “fancy clothes” and $21,000 for a watch, a prosecutor said in the government’s opening statement.
“A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him. Not tax, not banking law,” said Uzo Asonye, a member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution team.
On the second day of the trial, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III at one point warned prosecutors against using the pejorative term “oligarchs” to describe wealthy Ukrainians and criticized them for spending so much time listing Manafort’s wealth and lavish lifestyle.
“All this document shows is that Mr. Manafort had a lavish lifestyle. It isn’t relevant,” Ellis said in reaction to a piece of evidence introduced by prosecutors, adding that it was not a crime to be wealthy.
In describing the 18 counts Manafort is facing, prosecutor Asonye said that the defendant did not pay taxes on a large portion of the $60 million he earned working for Yanukovych’s party.
He said Manafort hid the income in a web of 30 overseas bank accounts, and lied to U.S. banks to borrow millions of dollars against his real-estate holdings once the money from Ukraine dried up.
“All of these charges boil down to one simple issue: that Paul Manafort lied,” Asonye said.
Manafort’s attorney, Thomas Zehnle, painted a different portrait of his client, calling him an experienced and successful political consultant who left the day-to-day operations of his company to his then-associate, Rick Gates, who he said betrayed him.
Zehnle appeared to be aiming to undermine the credibility of Gates, who pleaded guilty in February and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. Gates is expected to be a prominent witness at the trial.
“Rick Gates had his hand in the cookie jar,” Zehnle said, claiming that Gates was not truthful with the accountants who prepared Manafort’s tax returns and kept his name on offshore accounts to conceal an embezzlement scheme.
“Money’s coming in fast. It’s a lot, and Paul Manafort trusted that Rick Gates was keeping track of it,” Zehnle said. “That’s what Rick Gates was being paid to do.”
Thomas Green, who represents Gates, did not respond to a request for comment on the accusations.
Mueller has been tasked with investigating interactions between Trump associates and Russian officials. In all, his criminal probe has brought indictments against 32 people and three companies on various related charges.
Trump has insisted that he did not collude with Russia and has many times called the probe a “witch hunt.”