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Paul Manafort's Trial For Alleged Bank And Tax Fraud Charges Set To Begin


President Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort goes on trial tomorrow. This is the first case brought to trial by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is here in the studio. Hey there, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hello there.

CORNISH: So it's been months now - right? - since Paul Manafort was first indicted. We've been hearing a little bit in drips and (laughter) drabs over the - all that time. Remind us what the charges are.

LUCAS: Well, he faces a bucket of charges in this case, 18 counts in all. This is about bank fraud and tax fraud. And this is related to income that he earned while working as an unregistered lobbyist and consultant for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine from about 2006 to 2015. Now, prosecutors have laid out their case in court papers. They say that Manafort hid from U.S. authorities tens of millions of dollars that he earned in Ukraine. And they also say that he fraudulently secured more than 20 million in loans from U.S. banks by lying about his income and debt.

These actions, they say, allowed him to lead what they described as a lavish lifestyle. He purchased antique rugs, tens of thousands of dollars in clothing, multiple properties in New York City and elsewhere that cost millions of dollars apiece. And all told, prosecutors say $75 million flowed through offshore bank accounts belonging to Manafort.

CORNISH: All right. Am I mishearing here? None of those were about Moscow's role in the 2016 election. So how does this case actually fit into the Mueller investigation?

LUCAS: Manafort's lawyers have raised that same exact question. And they tried to get this whole case dismissed. They said that it didn't have anything to do with Russia and that Mueller had essentially wandered too far afield. Mueller's mandate, however, allows him to pursue any links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, as well as any matters that arise from that investigation. The presiding judge in this case ultimately decided that this falls squarely within Mueller's purview and rejected Manafort's motion to dismiss. This trial is in the Eastern District of Virginia. Manafort faces a separate but related case in Washington, D.C., that is scheduled to go to trial in September.

Now, both cases have put Manafort under a lot of legal and financial strain. To add to that, he's been awaiting trial in jail because of alleged attempts to tamper with a witness in the D.C. case. Those pressures have raised the question of whether Manafort will eventually decide to quit fighting the charges and instead cooperate with Mueller, which brings us back to the question of Russia and what, if anything, Manafort might have to offer prosecutors about possible coordination between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

CORNISH: Right. The assumption there being that Manafort has information that would be of interest to Mueller.

LUCAS: Exactly. And remember, Manafort spent about six months with the Trump campaign. Manafort's people have said that he doesn't have anything to offer. But we know that he attended that infamous Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 when a Russian lawyer came offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner were also at that meeting. And there are now reports that Trump himself knew about the meeting ahead of time. So there are likely things that Manafort knows that would be of interest to Robert Mueller.

CORNISH: Ryan, the trial opens tomorrow. What are you going to be keeping an eye out for?

LUCAS: Well, we'll have jury selection tomorrow, possibly opening statements as well. And then the trial is expected to last about three weeks. What I'm keeping an eye out for is Rick Gates. Gates was Manafort's right-hand man for years. Like Manafort, he worked on the Trump campaign. He was deputy chairman when Manafort was running the show in the summer of 2016. Gates also worked closely with Manafort in Ukraine, and they were actually indicted together by Mueller's team.

Gates pleaded guilty in February. He began cooperating with Mueller and his prosecutors. Gates is one of 35 witnesses that the government is expected to call to testify. And his testimony is expected to be one of these particularly dramatic moments of what is in essence a bank fraud and tax fraud trial.

CORNISH: That's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
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