The Manafort trial: Guilty on 8 counts
Paul Manafort's defense attorney Thomas Zehnle told the jury his team planned to pin all the crimes the government has accused Manafort of on his longtime deputy Rick Gates.
Gates pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and lying to federal investigators in February. Gates was charged with several crimes in the Virginia case, but after his plea, those charges were dropped.
Manafort's "trust in Rick Gates was misplaced," Zehnle said. Gates changed his story over time — to the point of saying anything to the government, he said. And Gates found himself in a legal bind "because he embezzled millions of dollars from his longtime employer" — Manafort, Zehnle said.
This is the first time Manafort's team has revealed its strategy in full. It's a bold move, especially given that Gates could also be a key witness in other pieces of Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election.
The defense also plans to use witnesses prosecutors plan to call to substantiate the idea that it was Gates lying and stealing money.
"He had his hand in the cookie jar," Zehnle said.
Manafort removed his glasses to watch Zehnle deliver his opening defense.
Opening statements in the criminal trial of Paul Manafort just wrapped up.
Attorneys on both sides delivered statements that lasted about 30 minutes.
The first witness will be called this afternoon.
In opening statements for the defense, Paul Manafort's defense attorney Thomas Zehnle laid out the bare bones of his side of the case, shifting much of the blame to the Ukrainian oligarchs that Manafort worked for and the business associates he worked with.
"This is the way that they required it to be done," Zehnle said, explaining why oligarchs paid Manafort through secret foreign accounts. Prosecutors said Tuesday that Manafort hid 30 foreign bank accounts from US authorities.
Of Manafort's associates, like longtime deputy Rick Gates, Zehnle said this:
"He trusted them to speak with one another and make sure things were done right."
Gates pleaded guilty earlier this year to participating in Manafort's alleged financial conspiracy and is slated to testify against Manafort. Both men were top officials in President Trump's campaign, but that is not part of the criminal case.
Zehnle specifically attacked Gates and called him "the prosecution's star witness."
In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors detailed Paul Manafort's "extravagant lifestyle," and said it was funded by "secret income" that he earned from his lobbying in Ukraine.
To demonstrate Manafort's lavish spending habits, Uzo Asonye, a prosecutor working on the case with special counsel Robert Mueller's team, pointed to specific details:
- Asonye told jurors that Manafort owned several homes and acquired real estate in New York and Virginia.
- Prosecutors said he bought expensive cars and watches.
- Manafort even got a $15,000 jacket "made from an ostrich," Asonye said.
Manafort is accused of filing false tax returns, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and defrauding several banks. If Manafort is convicted, these serious financial crimes could carry a total sentence of 300 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.
In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors painted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as a "shrewd" liar who orchestrated a global scheme to avoid paying taxes on millions of dollars.
Manafort lived an "extravagant lifestyle" fueled by millions of dollars in "secret income" that he earned from his lobbying in Ukraine, said Uzo Asonye, a prosecutor working on the case with special counsel Robert Mueller's team.
"All of these charges boil down to one simple issue -- that Paul Manafort lied," Asonye said.
A federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, granted a request for five witnesses to testify with immunity during Manafort's trial.
The five witnesses granted immunity are:
- James Brennan
- Donna Duggan
- Conor O'Brien
- Cindy Laporta
- Dennis Raico
Court filings do not provide details as to what each will be testifying about.
He has a long career in politics: In the 1980s, he founded a lobbying firm with Roger Stone, another Trump adviser under investigation.
Manafort is charged with bank fraud and tax crimes. Prosecutors claim he hid millions of dollars in income from lobbying for Ukrainian politicians, all while failing to pay taxes and spending the money on US real estate and personal luxury purchases.
He has pleaded not guilty.
He's also scheduled to face trial in Washington, DC, on related charges in September.
A jury of six men and six women has been sworn in for the criminal trial of Paul Manafort in Alexandria, Virginia.
Also selected were four alternate jurors of three women and one man.
It took seven rounds of the selection process for attorneys on both sides to reach 12 jurors.
Though the initial jury pool of 65 people from Northern Virginia was largely white, the group that will decide Manafort's guilt was quite diverse, with at least three of the jurors not being white and two not white alternates as well. They range in age.
The court will take a lunch break for almost an hour, and opening statements are expected to begin this afternoon.