Trial set to begin for ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort

AFP Contributor  AFP

AFP Contributor AFP

USA prosecutors raised the possibility on Wednesday that an expected star witness may not testify against President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort even as the judge tried to rein in their portrayal of Manafort's lavish lifestyle.

Prosecutors made no reference to Trump in their opening statement nor discussed in any way Manafort's leadership of the Trump campaign, or the ongoing investigation into potential collusion between Russian Federation and the president's associates.

Uzo Asonye, one of the prosecutors in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian Federation probe, made the comment as part of the prosecution's opening statement as the trial of Manafort got underway in a Virginia federal court.

The prosecution's suggestion that Gates might not testify emerged shortly before lunch on the second day of Manafort's trial, as Mueller's team questioned an Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who conducted the raid on Manafort's Alexandria, Virginia, home in July of 2017.

Selection of a 12-member jury for "USA vs Manafort" begins at 10:00 am (1400 GMT) on Tuesday before US District Court Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Virginia.

Manafort, 69, is accused of evading taxes on millions of dollars he got paid by Ukrainian pols, including former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country with Russia's help when he was ousted by Ukraine's parliament in February 2014.

President Trump has wavered between showing sympathy for Mr Manafort and trying to distance himself.

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The trial is the first courtroom test for the special counsel, who was tasked a year ago with investigating Russia's efforts to sway the 2016 election and to determine whether the Trump campaign was involved.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to bank and tax fraud charges stemming from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The allegations came during opening statements Tuesday in the Paul Manafort trial. Manafort is accused of financial crimes, including bank fraud and tax evasion, relating to his lobbying work for the government of Ukraine.

The trial is expected to drag on for at least three weeks, with jury selection for the case beginning on Tuesday.

Rabin testified that Manafort paid him to make TV advertisements for political parties and candidates in the Ukraine.

Manafort's lawyers have said he is being held in solitary confinement in Virginia owing to concerns about his safety.

The prosecution called witnesses to hammer home the point.

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"This case is about taxes and trust", defence attorney Thomas Zehnle told jurors.

But prosecutors' star witness is likely to be Gates, who worked closely with Manafort in Ukraine and later followed him into Trump's campaign as deputy chairman.

Prosecutors have said they would not present evidence of collusion at this trial.

At one point, an Federal Bureau of Investigation agent described the July 2017 raid on Manafort's Virginia condominium.

The appellate judges said Manafort was rightfully jailed because he had decided "to push the envelope by contributing to an op-ed in a foreign newspaper" while under a gag order, and also had "repeated communications with potential witnesses" for his upcoming trial.

"The defense side is pointing to they should", the former DOJ prosecutor said.

He's the only American charged in the Mueller probe to opt for a trial. There are also four alternates, three women and a man. Kilimnik, who prosecutors have said has ties to Russian intelligence, was indicted last month along with Manafort on charges of witness tampering.

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