Paul Manafort’s trial began today, and already jurors are learning more about the former Trump campaign chairman than they thought they would. According to The Week, Manafort used a portion of the money he received from his Ukrainian consulting jobs on an Ostrich coat, which cost $15,000.
Manafort is on trial for bank and tax fraud. According to the Washington Post, “prosecutors allege he failed to pay taxes on millions he made from his work for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party, then lied to get loans when the cash stopped coming in.” The trial is being handled by the same special counsel who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
After a jury of six men and six women were selected, opening statements began. Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye addressed Manafort’s alleged tax fraud and said that “a man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him. Not tax law, not banking law.” Asonye added that Manafort “created cash out of thin air.” Manafort made $60 million while working for a “Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party” between 2010 and 2014. Instead of reporting on the funds he received, Manafort split his money “between 30 bank accounts in three countries.”
But the defense painted a different picture of Manafort — he was not a man who lived a garish lifestyle, as the prosecution claimed, but someone whose business partner had embezzled millions from. Thomas Zehnle, the defense attorney, emphasized that Manafort’s former partner, Richard Gates, had been the one to violate trust. He had been the one to lie to the FBI and plead guilty to conspiracy. As the Washington Post reports, Zehnle portrayed Manafort not as some scandalous, money-hungry businessman but as a living example of the American dream, pointing out that Manafort had been “a second-generation immigrant, first in his family to go to college.”
Despite Tuesday’s events, Manafort’s trial has only begun. He faces 18 counts of financial fraud. While a conviction would be a life sentence for Manafort, who is nearly 70 years old, a loss, in this case, could be a blemish on special counsel Robert Mueller’s reputation. If Manafort is not found guilty, it will only serve to strengthen Republicans’ resolve to have the investigation on Russian collusion shut down. If Manafort is convicted, he may collaborate with Mueller on his investigation in order to receive a more reduced sentence.
The second trial in Manafort’s fraud case is slated to take place in September.