WASHINGTON – The trial for Paul Manafort, who was indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, begins today minus one big piece of evidence – collusion with Russia.
It’s expected to be rich with tales of lavish spending, secret shell companies and millions of dollars of Ukrainian money flowing through offshore bank accounts and into Manafort’s pocket. What spectators won’t hear much about is his very brief time running Trump’s presidential campaign or attempts to prove he colluded with Russian officials to influence the election.
Manafort, who has been the media’s biggest news story involving Russia, has not been charged with anything having to do with the 2016 presidential campaign or Donald Trump. Instead, special council Mueller has built a case around activities that began long before Manafort and Trump ever met.
Federal prosecutors say they will try to prove Manafort laundered more than $30 million in Ukrainian political consulting fees and concealed the money from the IRS. Instead of Manafort being a Russian spy, he turns out to be a tax cheat.
Manafort faces charges in two different courts and could spend decades in prison if convicted.
He’s the only American charged in the Mueller probe to opt for a trial.
It’s a risky move and some say, if he’s convicted, he’s betting on a presidential pardon from a president who thinks the whole Mueller investigation is ridiculous for continuing in the absence of any evidence linking it to Russia.
Although the case against Manafort has nothing to do with his time running the president’s campaign, it will give the public its most detailed glimpse of evidence Mueller’s team has spent the year accumulating. It is not known if the topic of $120 million funneled by Russian oligarchs to the Clinton Foundation in exchange for Russia receiving American enriched uranium will come up in testimony. While Manafort had nothing to do with that Obama-era scheme, some believe he will bring it up to force the media to deal with it as a headline. To this date, American media outlets have mostly ignored the Clinton-Russia connection and how the Clintons profited from the Russian deal.
At the same time, Mueller’s team continues to press the president’s legal team for an interview with the commander in chief. Political leaders on left are even beginning to criticize the Mueller investigation for being all smoke and no fire. To date, no evidence or convictions linking the president to Russia have been produced. This after upwards of $100 million has been spent trying to find a link and led by a prosecution team of 13 Washington lawyers who all contributed substantial sums to the Hillary Clinton campaign. Many democrats though, continue to call for impeachment having never accepted the results of the 2016 election.
Manafort has been in jail since last month when a judge revoked his house arrest over allegations that he and an associate tried to tamper with witnesses in the case. Mueller received considerable criticism for asking that bail be set at $10 million.
In 2016 those responsible for destroying then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s computers and cell phones with hammers were allowed by the Obama Justice Department and FBI to return to India after they were subpoenaed by a Congressional Committee investigating the disappearance of 30,000 emails that may have linked Clinton to illegal activities involving Russia and the secret American uranium deal.
Manafort’s trial is expected to be lengthy. Prosecutors say they may call as many as 35 witnesses, including five who have immunity agreements.
–Metro Voice and wire services.