Published: Wed, August 01, 2018
Worldwide | By Victor Meyer

Trump campaign chairman ‘considered himself above the law’: Prosecutors

Trump campaign chairman ‘considered himself above the law’: Prosecutors

At a recent hearing, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who will preside over the trial, warned prosecutors to restrain themselves, noting the current "antipathy" toward Russia and how "most people in this country don't distinguish between Ukrainians and Russians".

The case against Manafort outlined by prosecutors on Tuesday represents a new phase in Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling - the first jury trial stemming from the probe that President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked as a "witch hunt".

Prosecutors plan to produce almost three dozen witnesses during the trial, including Manafort's former associate Richard Gates, who is cooperating with the government after pleading guilty to lesser charges in February.

Manafort, the former chairman of the Donald Trump presidential campaign, was jailed in mid-June on suspicions of witness tampering.

Defence attorney Thomas Zehnle said in his opening statement that Manafort trusted others to keep track of the millions of dollars he was earning from his Ukrainian political work.

He said Manafort had especially relied on Rick Gates, his business associate and now the prosecution's star witness, but that trust was misplaced.

Wednesday marks the second day of the trial here, which is expected to run for about three weeks.

Mr Asonye said Mr Manafort created "bogus" loans, falsified documents and lied to his tax preparer and bookkeeper to hide the money, which he obtained from Ukrainian oligarchs through a series of shell company transfers and later from fraudulently obtained bank loans in the US.

While the main areas of Mueller's investigation are Russia's actions during the 2016 presidential election and any attempts by Trump to obstruct justice, none of those topics are expected to come up in Manafort's trial. Prosecutors, though, are recommending 8 to 10 years.

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Yet the trial also contains pitfalls for Trump.

That task comes as the president and his lawyer-spokesperson, Rudy Giuliani, have intensified their attempts to undermine the Mueller investigation in the court of public opinion and as the US president continues to waffle on whether he'll sit for a private interview with prosecutors. Mr Trump tweeted early on Tuesday.

Turley said Manafort may be "playing a pardon strategy".

By midday, a jury of six women and six men, with four alternates, was in place.

Given the strength of the evidence, however, some legal experts have suggested Mr Manafort may be banking on an eventual pardon from Mr Trump, who has called his former campaign chairman a "nice guy" who has been treated unfairly.

"I don't anticipate that a government witness will utter the word 'Russia,"' Andres said. "The Special Counsel consents to a one week extension of the deadline to submit a Joint Pretrial Order but objects to the longer extension Mr. Manafort seeks in this motion", they continued.

"This is the way that they required it to be done", Zehnle said, arguing why oligarchs paid Manafort through secret foreign accounts.

But prosecutor Uso Asonye said jurors may not hear from Mr. Gates after all.

Today, Trump is invoking one of the nation's most notorious criminals in venting about the treatment of Manafort as he begins trial.

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