Manafort trial to shed light on Mueller probe evidence

In this Feb. 14, 2018, file photo, Paul Manafort leaves the federal courthouse in Washington. The trial of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman will open this week with tales of lavish spending on properties and clothing and allegations that the political consultant laundered money through offshore bank accounts. What’s likely to be missing: answers about whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The trial of President Donald Trump’s onetime campaign chairman will open this week with tales of lavish spending, secret shell companies and millions of dollars of Ukrainian money flowing through offshore bank accounts and into the political consultant’s pocket.

What’s likely to be missing: answers about whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election, or really any mention of Russia at all.

Paul Manafort’s financial crimes trial, the first arising from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, will center on his Ukrainian consulting work and only briefly touch on his involvement with the president’s campaign.

But the broader implications are unmistakable.

The trial, scheduled to begin Tuesday with jury selection in Alexandria, Virginia, will give the public its most detailed glimpse of evidence Mueller’s team has spent the year accumulating. It will feature testimony about the business dealings and foreign ties of a defendant Trump entrusted to run his campaign during a critical stretch in 2016, including during the Republican convention. And it will unfold at a delicate time for the president as Mueller’s team presses for an interview and as Trump escalates his attacks on an investigation he calls a “witch hunt.”

Adding to the intrigue is the expected spectacle of Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, testifying against him after cutting a plea deal with prosecutors, and the speculation that Manafort, who faces charges in two different courts and decades in prison if convicted, may be holding out for a pardon from Trump.

“Perhaps he believes that he’s done nothing wrong, and because he’s done nothing wrong, he’s unwilling to plead guilty to any crime whatsoever — even if it’s a lesser crime,” said Jimmy Gurule, a Notre Dame law professor and former federal prosecutor. “Obviously, that’s very risky for him.”

Manafort was indicted along with Gates in Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation, but he is the only American charged to opt for a trial instead of cooperating with the government.

The remaining 31 individuals charged have either reached plea agreements, including ex-White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, or are Russians seen as unlikely to enter an American courtroom. Three Russian companies have also been charged.

Prosecutors in Manafort’s case have said they may call 35 witnesses, including five who have immunity agreements, as they try to prove that he laundered more than $30 million in Ukrainian political consulting proceeds and concealed the funds from the IRS.