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Donald Trump

Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is convicted at fraud trial

Manafort was found guilty on five counts of tax fraud, one count of failing to file a financial document with the government and two counts of bank fraud; a mistrial was declared on 10 other counts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 4:52am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 12:57pm

Paul Manafort, US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, was convicted by a federal jury at his fraud trial on Tuesday, handing a crucial victory to special counsel Robert Mueller.

Manafort was found guilty on five counts of tax fraud, one count of failing to file a financial document with the government, and two counts of bank fraud. The jury could not reach a decision on the other 10 counts.

He was accused of lying to tax authorities about his income and offshore tax accounts, failing to file reports about those accounts, and defrauding banks to get loans.

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The convictions were half of a double blow to Trump.

At the moment that the Manafort verdict was read out in Alexandria, Virginia, Trump’s long-time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was pleading guilty in Manhattan to eight counts of tax evasion, false financial statements and unlawful campaign contributions.

In the Manafort case, US District Judge TS Ellis III declared a mistrial on the 10 counts for which the jury could not reach a verdict. Manafort and his wife, Kathleen, showed no emotion when the courtroom deputy read the verdict. Manafort looked stunned as he was led out of the courtroom.

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Manafort remains in custody and faces a September 17 trial in Washington on charges of money laundering, failing to register as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice.

Trump continued to maintain that the case had nothing to do with him.

“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort,” Trump said as he arrived in West Virginia for a rally on Tuesday night. “It does not involve me. It has nothing to do with Russian collusion; we [sic] continue the witch hunt.”

By deadlocking on all the conspiracy counts, it suggests that the jury rejected some or all of the testimony of Rick Gates, Manafort’s former right-hand man who pleaded guilty and cooperated with Mueller’s investigation. Gates was the star prosecution witness and defence lawyers depicted him as a liar and embezzler.

Manafort, 69, faces a lengthy prison term for each count, raising the question of whether Trump might take the politically fraught step of pardoning his former aide or commuting his sentence.

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Without Trump’s intervention, Manafort’s only hope for leniency would be to cooperate with Mueller’s probe. No sentencing date has been set as Ellis said he wanted to give the prosecution time to decide whether to retry the 10 counts. They have until August 29 to decide how to proceed.

The case was the first brought by Mueller to go to trial. Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, has charged 32 people, including more than two dozen Russians, and secured five guilty pleas.

Jurors took four days to find Manafort guilty of eight of the 18 counts he faced, bringing a relatively speedy conclusion to a trial that Ellis kept moving swiftly with frequent excoriations to prosecutors to pick up their pace.

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Manafort’s crimes were not related to Russian interference in the 2016 US election, the primary focus of the special counsel investigation.

But Mueller’s victory is still a blow to Trump, who has ratcheted up his attacks on the special counsel, calling the probe a “witch hunt” led by “angry Democrats” and urging him to end his work before the November congressional elections. Now, however, Mueller’s backers have a jury conviction to hold up as evidence of his progress.

The trial detailed Manafort’s work as a strategist and lobbyist for foreign interests and his ties to pro-Russia oligarchs in Ukraine. When Manafort advised Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and his Party of Regions, those businessmen paid for his work by moving millions into shell companies in Cyprus, jurors heard.

Prosecutors said at trial that the evidence of Manafort’s guilt was overwhelming.

They used 27 witnesses and 388 documents to pierce the veil of lies he repeatedly told – to US tax authorities and to bankers – to maintain a lavish lifestyle that frayed as the Ukraine business dried up.

Manafort put on no witnesses and did not testify.