Manafort trial begins in biggest test yet for special counsel Robert Mueller

Manafort trial begins in biggest test yet for special counsel Robert Mueller

Manafort trial begins in biggest test yet for special counsel Robert Mueller

Most tax and bank fraud cases are built on stacks of bland business documents and Internal Revenue Service paperwork - hardly the stuff of worldwide intrigue.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on Monday gave up his effort to challenge special counsel Robert Mueller in civil court.

Prosecutors with the special counsel filed the witness list Friday in the case of Paul Manafort. He has questioned how the indictment of Paul Manafort on financial charges relates to Mueller's investigation on alleged 2016 Russian election interference.

The trial, starting with selection of a 12-member jury, coincides with growing speculation that Mr Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen may co-operate with federal investigators against the president. In fact, prosecutors said last week they don't expect the word "Russia" to be mentioned at all.

He said Trump could help the public understand what is at stake in Mueller's investigation, which both Trump and Caputo have called a "witch hunt" aimed at ending his presidency.

The trial is the first to arise from the yearlong investigation into Russian election meddling and possible connections to the Trump campaign.

Little's theory is Manafort may be hoping Trump will pardon him, "and just wants to delay, delay, delay until Trump feels comfortable doing that".

The Virginia trial is Manafort's first trial.

"On the basis of the record presented thus far, there is no reason to believe that fair and impartial jurors can not be found in the Eastern District of Virginia", the judge concluded.

Presiding over the case is 78-year-old Judge T.S. Ellis, appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan. Prospective jurors already have filled out a lengthy questionnaire that asks about their experience with the criminal justice system and their familiarity with Ukraine.

Prosecutors accuse Manafort, 69, of working as an unregistered lobbyist for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, laundering more than $30 million in income and deceiving banks to secure millions of dollars more in loans.

His lawyers are seeking to exclude evidence at trial that details Mr Manafort's political lobbying work in Ukraine, saying it would be "irrelevant, prejudicial and unnecessarily time-consuming". The grand jury indictment accused Manafort of funneling the money to offshore accounts in Cyprus, the Seychelles and other locations, as well as failing to report it to the IRS.

But prosecutors' star witness is likely to be Gates, who worked closely with Manafort in Ukraine and later followed him into Trump's campaign as deputy chairman. Mr Manafort denies all charges, and at one point had sought to get them dismissed.

Manafort's defense team has filed a flurry of motions - to suppress evidence gathered from a Virginia storage unit, to challenge the mandate of the special counsel and to delay the trial - almost all of which it has lost so far.

The former political consultant, who ran the Trump campaign for three months, has pleaded not guilty.

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.

Manafort has been in jail since last month when a judge revoked his house arrest over allegations that he and an associate tried to tamper with witnesses in the case.

Over the next three weeks a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, is expected to hear descriptions of his lavish lifestyle and Cypriot shell companies, his ties with Ukrainian oligarchs, and allegedly fraudulent property deals created to deceive the United States tax authorities.

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