Alexandria, Virginia, USA : A jury has found former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, guilty on eight of 18 counts in his federal trial on tax evasion and bank fraud allegations.
The verdicts come after prosecutors laid out what they said was Manafort’s scheme to illegally hide tens of millions of dollars he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine. They said he also committed fraud to obtain millions more in bank loans and mortgages. Manafort did not testify in his own defense.
Manafort’s trial is the first stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s supposed role in the 2016 presidential election.
The jury in the financial fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort asked the judge Tuesday what it should do if it cannot reach a consensus for a single count in the case.
Jurors posed the question to U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III on their fourth day of deliberations, asking how they should fill in the verdict form if they are unable to agree on one of the charges.
The jury in Alexandria, Va., is weighing 18 counts against Manafort, who is accused of hiding millions of dollars in foreign income from Ukraine and of lying on loan applications to maintain a lavish lifestyle.
Among the charges he was found guilty of includes five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. The jury said in a note it has not reached consensus on the other 10 counts. The judge has declared a mistrial on those counts.
The judge has excused the jury. Judge Thomas S. Ellis III encouraged the jury not to talk to the press but did not bar them from doing so, saying, “I suggest to you that you have a duty of confidentiality.”
The 68-year-old faces up to 30 years in prison for each count.
The charges he has been found guilty of so far carry steep sentences. Each of five counts of subscribing to a false income tax return carries a maximum of three years in federal prison; the count of failing to report a foreign bank account carries a 5-year maximum sentence; and each of his two counts of bank fraud carries a maximum of 30 years behind bars.
The ten counts remaining include two counts of bank fraud, all five counts of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and three counts of failing to report foreign bank accounts.
Ellis has not yet set a sentencing date and has given prosecutors until August 29 to decide whether to retry Manafort on the deadlocked charges.
At trial, the special counsel rested its case after parading more than two dozen accountants and associates of Manafort over the course of two weeks, painting the longtime Republican operative as a man who shielded millions of dollars from American authorities in order to fund his lavish lifestyle.
During one of the most dramatic moments of the trial, defense attorneys representing Manafort sought to shift blame onto Manafort’s long-time business partner and Trump campaign deputy manager, Rick Gates. During his testimony, Gates admitted to stealing from Manafort and using that money to finance at least one extramarital affair.
Last Tuesday, Manafort’s attorneys rested their case, electing not to call any witnesses or mount a defense.
In closing arguments on Wednesday, prosecutors slammed Manafort as a liar and a schemer. “When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it’s littered with lies,” special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres said, telling jurors that Manafort is “not above the law.”
“He lied to his tax preparers, he lied to his bookkeeper, because he wanted to hide that money and avoid paying taxes,” Andres added, emphasizing the mountain of documents presented to jurors – not the witnesses – as evidence of Manafort’s guilt.
Defense counsel disagreed. Attorneys Richard Westling and Kevin Downing sought to point the finger at Gates, who they say was the mastermind behind Manafort’s legal woes, making the case to jurors that prosecutors failed to meet the burden of proof in charging Manafort with all these crimes.
This past Friday, President Donald Trump expressed sympathy for his former campaign chairman, who he called a “good person,” telling reporters gathered at the White House that “it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.” Asked whether he will pardon Manafort, Trump declined to answer.
The president repeated that sentiment Wednesday upon his arrival for a rally in West Virginia.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort,” Trump told reporters, adding that the conviction on financial charges in his view strayed from the original mission of the Special Counsel probe.
“It had nothing to do with Russian collusion so we continue the Witch Hunt,” he said.
Manafort faces another trial brought by the special counsel next month in Washington, D.C., where Manafort has been charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and foreign lobbying violations.
US Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) said Tuesday that any attempt by Trump to pardon Manafort “would be a gross abuse of power” and would require an immediate congressional response.
Manafort has been in jail since June 15, 2018, when a federal judge in Washington, D.C., revoked his $10 million bond in the first indictment he faced, which was filed in the capital in October 2017. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson initially put him on house arrest after he pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Manafort resigned as Trump’s campaign chairman in August 2016 after The New York Times reported a Ukrainian government corruption probe found Manafort received nearly $13 million off the books from a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. In June 2017, when Manafort registered as a foreign agent after the fact, he reported making more than $17 million from the Party of Regions.
Within the first month of Trump’s presidency, U.S. intelligence agencies said they were investigating intercepted phone calls between Manafort and Russian intelligence agents. Manafort said he didn’t realize they were intelligence agents.
Manafort also was one of eight people in attendance at a meeting between Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer.
Manafort was scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary in July 2017, but the committee dropped its subpoena after he spoke with members of the Senate intelligence committee and gave them documents on July 25.
On Jan. 3, 2018, Manafort sued the Department of Justice, saying Mueller didn’t have the authority to investigate his lobbying dealings in Ukraine. The Department of Justice asked for the suit to be dropped, saying Manafort misinterpreted Mueller’s appointment as allowing him to investigate crimes “uncovered for the very first time during his investigation.”
On May 15, 2018, a federal judge rejected Manafort’s suit.
They said he can prosecute crimes the Justice Department knew about.