Paul Manafort’s Defense Team Opens Trial by Blaming Associates


“This case is about trust because it’s about Mr. Manafort placing his trust in the wrong person,” Mr. Zehnle said, referring to Mr. Gates.

“Paul Manafort shouldn’t be here,” Mr. Zehnle said.

Mr. Gates worked alongside Mr. Manafort for years, both in Ukraine, where they worked together as political consultants on behalf of pro-Russian officials, and on the Trump campaign in 2016.

Mr. Gates is scheduled to testify against Mr. Manafort in what is likely to be one of the trial’s most dramatic moments.

A jury has been seated.

Setting a fast pace for a complicated trial, Judge T.S. Ellis III of the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., repeatedly urged lawyers for both sides to speed up their decision-making so the jury could be seated.

By midday, a jury of six women and six men, with four alternates, was in place. Judge Ellis said the trial would move immediately to opening statements after a lunch recess.

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Mr. Manafort is the first American charged in the inquiry by the special counsel whose case is going to trial.

Credit
Alexandria Sheriff’s Office

While not directly related, Russia looms over the case.

The charges against Mr. Manafort are not related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election or to attempts by Russian emissaries to make inroads into the Trump campaign, which Mr. Manafort led for three months before he was forced out because of allegations about his work for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, the trial is being carefully watched because of Mr. Manafort’s role as the chairman of the Trump campaign and his longstanding ties with pro-Russia businessmen and politicians, which he developed over a decade of political consulting work in Ukraine.

Catching up on the Paul Manafort trial? Here is a rundown of the stakes and answers to some FAQs.

Judge Ellis has told lawyers for both sides that he will not allow politics or anti-Russian sentiment to taint the jury. And he has warned prosecutors and defense lawyers to steer clear of references to Russia as they present their evidence.

The trial is expected to last at least three weeks.

The judge gave the original pool of 60 prospective jurors what he called “thumbnail sketches” of the accusations in the indictment. Mr. Manafort turned around to face the potential jurors, offering a slight closemouthed smile and looking away when the charges were called.

Judge Ellis questioned many of the potential jurors about any social or professional relationships with individuals within the Department of Justice and assured them he would take into account their August vacation plans, child care, and even pet care.

“I have pets,” he explained.

Prosecutors listed more than 400 exhibits and said they might call nearly three dozen witnesses.

The prosecutors have marshaled what they claim is an overwhelming case that Mr. Manafort evaded taxes on tens of millions of dollars in income he garnered from his work in Ukraine. When that spigot of funds dried up, they claim, Mr. Manafort resorted to bank fraud to maintain a lavish lifestyle.

They have listed more than 400 exhibits and said they might call nearly three dozen witnesses, including Rick Gates, Mr. Manafort’s former right-hand man and Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign chairman. Mr. Gates has pleaded guilty to charges in the case and is cooperating with Mr. Mueller’s inquiry.

Mr. Manafort has maintained his innocence and has shown no public inclination to seek or agree to a plea deal. Mr. Manafort has said he knows nothing about any Russian involvement in the election.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly suggested that he is surprised at how harshly Mr. Manafort has been treated. In an interview with Fox News two weeks ago, he said the indictments against his former aides, including Mr. Manafort, were a “very sad thing for our country.”

He described Mr. Manafort, who helped the campaign marshal delegates for two months before moving up to campaign chairman, as “a nice man.” He added: “You look at what’s going on with him, it’s like Al Capone.”

A little background

Since Mr. Mueller’s inquiry began in May 2017, a dozen Russian intelligence officers have been indicted on charges of hacking into Democratic Party and presidential campaign computer accounts. An additional 13 have been indicted on charges of illegally using social media to sow discord or try to influence American voters to vote for Mr. Trump.

The other four Americans who were indicted due to Mr. Mueller’s efforts have pleaded guilty. They include Mr. Gates; Michael T. Flynn, a campaign adviser who became President Trump’s national security adviser; and George Papadopoulos, an unpaid campaign adviser who was targeted by emissaries who have been linked to Russian intelligence.

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