Key players in USA case versus ex-Trump campaign chairman Manafort

Larry Hoffman
August 2, 2018

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort personally directed millions of dollars in global wire transfers to pay for high-end suits and more than $3 million in improvements at his various houses, witnesses testified Wednesday on the second day of his financial fraud trial.

Prosecutors are seeking to tie the spending to income that Manafort allegedly failed to report to the IRS and hid in foreign bank accounts he set up through shell companies.

In the pre-trial stage, Ellis had expressed skepticism of the prosecutors' tactics, accusing the team, which is led by special counsel Robert Mueller, of going after Manafort to get to Trump.

At a recent hearing, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who will preside over the trial, warned prosecutors to restrain themselves, noting the current "antipathy" toward Russia and how "most people in this country don't distinguish between Ukrainians and Russians".

Prosecutors said they could conclude making their case as early as next week, meaning the trial could be shorter than the three weeks prosecutors had projected.

With the jury out of the room, the judge complained about prosecutors' efforts to show that Manafort's life was luxurious and blocked them from showing one document on home renovations. But that trust was misplaced, Zehnle said in an opening statement that made clear that undermining the credibility of Gates - a former Trump campaign aide who spent years working for Manafort in Ukraine - is central to the defense strategy.

"Let's move on, enough is enough", the judge said sternly, allowing the witness to describe the annual spending, but not the total amount over the five year period. "It's a lot, and Paul Manafort trusted that Rick Gates was keeping track of it", Zehnle said. FBI Special Agent Matthew Mikuska, who participated in the raid on Manafort's Virginia condo last summer, said they found "closets full" of suits and numerous invoices, including one for $160,000, paid for by wire transfer from a Cypriot bank, for two silk rugs.

"All this document shows is that Mr. Manafort had a lavish lifestyle".

Paul Manafort spent over $1.5 million on custom suits and bespoke clothing between 2010 and 2014, often paying by foreign bank wire transfers, two luxury menswear retailers told a federal court in Virginia on Wednesday.

When the judge asked Asonye for a clarification, Asonye said prosecutors are constantly evaluating the need to call a particular witness and his comments were "not to suggest we are not calling him".

The details of the trial were largely overshadowed by Trump's call on Wednesday for an end to Mueller's probe, leading some Democrats to repeat accusations that the president is obstructing of justice. Their roles were expected to feature more prominently in the Washington trial later this autumn.

This tweet also begs the question: does Trump sympathize with Al Capone?

Defense lawyers also sought to address head-on Manafort's wealth and the images of a gaudy lifestyle that jurors are expected to see. At one point, his defense lawyers sued Mueller and the Justice Department, saying they'd overstepped their bounds by bringing a prosecution untethered to the core questions of Mueller's investigation - whether Russian Federation worked with the Trump campaign to tip the election.

Even as the world outside the courtroom walls continues to debate whether the Trump campaign -which Manafort worked for for five months - colluded with Russian Federation during the election, inside the Alexandria courthouse, the day stayed focused on one man and whether he illegally gamed the system to enrich himself.

He faces a second trial in September on conspiracy charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Mueller, appointed in May 2017 to his current post, has been running a wide-ranging inquiry that has charged 32 people, including 26 Russians, and others in Trump's campaign orbit.

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