Paul Manafort trial: prosecutors seek to paint picture of luxe lifestyle
- Samuel Hayes
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. Some Democrats accused Trump of obstruction of justice. The president has criticized past administrations for not divulging information about his former campaign manager Paul Manafort's alleged crimes. Prosecutors questioned veteran political consultant Daniel Rabin about the work he did for Manafort.
This on Day 2 of Manafort's trial in Alexandria, Virginia, on charges of tax and bank fraud, not related to Robert Mueller's Russian Federation election tamper investigation, though that distinction seems lost on Trump.
In describing the 18 counts facing Manafort, Asonye said that Manafort did not pay taxes on a large portion of the $60 million he earned working for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, hid the income in a web of 30 overseas bank accounts, and lied to US banks to borrow millions of dollars against his real estate holdings once the money from Ukraine dried up. He pleaded guilty in February to conspiring against the United States and lying to investigators.
A star government witness will be Richard Gates, a former deputy Trump campaign chairman and former Manafort business associate.
But assistant USA attorney Uzo Asonye said of Gates: "He may testify, he may not".
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Prosecutors in Manafort's case have said they may call 35 witnesses, including five who have immunity agreements, as they try to prove that he laundered more than $30 million in Ukrainian political consulting proceeds and concealed the funds from the IRS. On multiple properties he owned, Manafort spent more than $3 million with SP&C Home Improvement Inc. from 2010 to 2014 on home improvements, including dining room and kitchen renovations.
While punctuated by the judge's colorful commands, the day proceeded with matters of substance, as witnesses testified to how Manafort spent his money and prosecutors surprised many observers when they suggested they might not call former Manafort colleague Rick Gates to testify.
Government attorneys with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team seemed to be using a time-worn legal tactic, highlighting extravagant purchases well beyond the means of a typical juror while arguing that Manafort financed his lifestyle in part by cheating the government out of taxes he owed.
A prosecutor showed Mikuska and the jury a series of invoices, including for home improvement work, that were seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the August 2017 raid. "It's a lot, and Paul Manafort trusted that Rick Gates was keeping track of it", Zehnle said.
One witness, Maximillian Katzman, said Manafort was one of the best customers at the luxury menswear boutique where he used to work in Midtown Manahattan. In fact, at the outset of the day, Ellis even banned the word "oligarch" from the courtroom in reference to people Manafort dealt with during his work in Ukraine and Russian Federation, saying the word had "come to have a pejorative meaning".
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"Of course, there will be no evidence about that", the judge said, adding that oligarchs were merely rich people.
Matthew Mikuska, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, described on Wednesday how agents approached Manafort's tony condominium last summer, knocking three times before ultimately gaining entrance to the "large, luxury unit" using a key. Mikuska said agents arrived at around 6 a.m. and knocked three times before entering the condominium with a key.
Trump early on August 1 wrote on Twitter that "this is a awful situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further".
Trump's Capone tweet has people wondering whether mentioning Manafort in the same breath as Scarface is really all that flattering. Both Trump and Russian Federation have denied any collusion occurred. It will feature testimony about the business dealings and foreign ties of a defendant Trump entrusted to run his campaign during a critical stretch in 2016, including during the Republican convention. USA intelligence agencies concluded that Moscow directed the hacking of political groups and disinformation on social media to undermine Trump's presidential election opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, and aid Trump's candidacy.
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