Paul Manafort, ex-Trump campaign chief, to begin trial

TPM Illustration

TPM Illustration

The biggest test of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election begins Tuesday with the trial of Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

After a rocky road to cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian Federation probe, Gates is expected to provide critical testimony against Manafort, whose own attorney has called Gates the "heart" of the government's case.

Manafort's work for the pro-Russian government in Ukraine plays a central role in the allegations against him, since prosecutors say he concealed income from that work from USA tax officials and allegedly laundered more than $18 million in proceeds.

They claim that when Mr Manafort's income from consulting and foreign lobbying dried up, he lied to banks to get loans to maintain his lavish spending.

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". "If anyone on earth knows Manafort's brain and intentions it's Rick Gates, and Rick Gates is going to get on the stand and say, 'Let me tell ya". Giuliani said he and Jay Sekulow, another Trump lawyer, had told the president: "This would be a very bad thing to do now".

Hundreds of pages of government evidence - which became public when Manafort's attorneys sought to exclude the materials at trial - document Gates' involvement in Manafort's Ukraine dealings.

If Manafort is acquitted, "it will benefit President Trump tremendously, because it will cast into doubt all of the legitimacy of the process that is occurring", said Joshua Dressler, a professor of criminal law and criminal procedure at Ohio State University.

The charges against Manafort largely predate the five months he worked on the Trump team in 2016, some of them as campaign chairman. And they won't learn that Manafort's co-defendant in the Washington case is a business associate named Konstantin Kilimnik, who lives in Russia and who USA authorities assert has connections to Russian intelligence.

"The documents establish the breadth of the work that Manafort performed, including commissioning television ads, writing speeches and carrying on campaign-related activities", read the filing, Bloomberg states.

"We have once again reached the point in time where we should cast aside all U.S. political work in favor of everyone's most beloved country - Ukraine", Gates wrote in a 2014 email to some American political strategists.

In all, prosecutors say, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts Manafort and Gates set up.

The trial in Alexandria, Virginia, will give the public its most detailed glimpse of evidence Mueller's team has spent the year accumulating. He pleaded not guilty to these allegations, and the case is scheduled to go to trial in mid-September.

A star government witness will be Richard Gates, a former deputy Trump campaign chairman and former Manafort business associate.

Seven prosecutors from Mueller's office were expected to feature prominently in the trial, including veteran government attorneys Andrew Weissmann and Greg Andres, who returned to the government from private practice to work on Mueller's probe.

Responding to allegations that Manafort took the campaign job with Trump in 2016 to pay off debts he owed to a Russian oligarch, the defense fund website asserts that he was "motivated exclusively by his appreciation and ardor for our country".

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