Charges against Manafort
The trial of Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, ended Tuesday in Alexandria, Virginia, as the 12-person jury found him guilty of eight of 18 charges, including filing false income tax returns, failing to file a report of a foreign bank account in 2012, and bank fraud.
Special counsel Robert Mueller brought this federal case against Manafort, as well as a second criminal case that will start in Washington in September.
Manafort faced 18 criminal counts of tax evasion and bank fraud. The charges are unrelated to the core of Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to subvert the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Trump's favor.
If Manafort had been found guilty on all counts, he could have spent the rest of his life in prison. His conviction on eight counts means he is looking at a sentence of several years in prison.
The charges stemmed from Manafort’s decade-long lobbying and political consulting work for Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych.
While working for Yanukovych and his pro-Russia Party of Regions between 2006 and 2015, Manafort and his former business partner, Rick Gates, allegedly earned tens of millions of dollars in fees while hiding the income from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
To avoid paying hefty taxes, prosecutors said during the trial, Manafort and Gates set up secret shell companies and offshore accounts to funnel their Ukrainian proceeds disguised as “loans” to U.S. accounts to buy multimillion-dollar properties and luxury goods.
After Yanukovych was deposed in 2014 and their Ukrainian income dwindled, Manafort and Gates allegedly came up with another scheme to obtain money: use their real estate properties in the United States as collateral to fraudulently secure more than $20 million in bank loans by “falsely inflating” their income.
In all, prosecutors said, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts Manafort and Gates set up.
Manafort maintains innocence
Manafort had pleaded not guilty to the charges in Virginia, as well as to a separate indictment in federal court in Washington.
Manafort had been under federal investigation since 2014 over suspicion of illegal lobbying and financial improprieties. But he was ensnared in the Russia investigation last year after Mueller began examining ties between Trump campaign staff and Russia.
Trump has repeatedly called the criminal and congressional probes into connections between his campaign and Russian interests a "witch hunt" used by Democrats to explain his election win over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Democratic and some Republican lawmakers have denounced Trump's allegations, saying Mueller, a former FBI director appointed by President George W. Bush, has a highly regarded professional reputation for acting apolitically.
The evidence against Manafort
Mueller has spent the past 14 months building the case against Manafort with a mountain of evidence seized from Manafort’s and Gates’ homes, including computers and electronic devices, as well as documents obtained from financial institutions.
Prosecutors submitted a list of hundreds of exhibits, including financial documents and photographs of luxury cars and real estate properties Manafort bought with his Ukrainian income.
The special counsel enlisted dozens of witnesses to testify against Manafort, including accountants, financial advisers, tax preparers and real estate agents.
But the prosecutors’ star witness was Gates, who worked closely with Manafort in Ukraine and later followed him into Trump’s campaign as deputy chairman. Gates testified against his former colleague, implicating him in hiding offshore accounts, bank fraud and multimillion-dollar tax evasion. Gates also admitted to the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars while on Manafort's payroll for a decade.
Gates was named as a co-defendant in the initial indictment handed down against Manafort last October. But when the special counsel hit the two men with a second indictment in February, Gates pleaded guilty to two lesser counts in exchange for cooperation.
Manafort remained defiant, vowing to fight the charges.
Short of an acquittal, some legal experts said the best hope for Manafort to avoid jail time remains a presidential pardon, although Trump has given no indication he’ll pardon his former campaign chairman.
Other legal scholars say even a presidential pardon may not help. They say Manafort can be indicted in state court for many of the same crimes for which he's been charged by the special counsel, a circumstance for which a presidential pardon cannot be applied. Presidential pardons can only be applied to federal crimes, legal experts say.
The trial is the first courtroom test of special counsel Mueller's Russia probe, even though the case doesn't involve allegations of Russian election interference.
Manafort also faces a second trial next month in Washington, where he will face charges focused on allegations of lying to the FBI, lobbying for foreign governments and money laundering. If convicted, Manafort could receive a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.