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Paul Manafort guilty on 8 counts in fraud trial; mistrial on 10

Paul Manafort, the longtime political operative who for months led Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign, was found guilty of eight financial crimes.
Paul Manafort, the longtime political operative who for months led Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign, was found guilty of eight financial crimes.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, was convicted on eight counts Tuesday in his financial fraud trial, a dramatic end to a politically charged case that riveted the capital.

The verdict was a victory for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, whose prosecutors introduced extensive evidence that Manafort hid millions of dollars in foreign accounts to evade taxes and lied to banks repeatedly to obtain millions of dollars in loans.

Manafort was convicted of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining 10 counts, and the judge declared a mistrial on those charges.

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Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Manafort, said his client was “evaluating all of his options at this point.”

Jason Maloni, Manafort’s spokesman, said, “We expect to appeal.” Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, declined to comment.

The verdict was read in US District Court in Alexandria, only minutes after Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to violating campaign finance law and other charges.

Manafort’s trial did not touch directly on Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election or on whether Trump has sought to obstruct the investigation.

But it was the first test of his ability to prosecute a case in a federal courtroom amid intense criticism from the president and his allies that the inquiry is a biased and unjustified witch hunt. And the outcome had substantial political implications, if only in denying Trump more ammunition for his campaign to discredit Mueller.

President Trump says the conviction of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on financial crimes is ‘‘a disgrace.’’
President Trump says the conviction of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on financial crimes is ‘‘a disgrace.’’

Before and during the trial, Trump sought both to defend Manafort as a victim of prosecutorial overreach and to distance himself from him, saying that Manafort had worked for him only relatively briefly.

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After the verdict was announced, Trump said he felt “very badly” for Manafort and continued to maintain that the prosecution had been politically motivated.

“It doesn’t involve me,” Trump told reporters after landing in West Virginia for a rally Tuesday evening. “It had nothing to do with Russian collusion.”

The trial focused on Manafort’s personal finances, in particular the tens of millions of dollars he made advising a political party in Ukraine that backed pro-Russia policies.

Defense lawyers had argued that Rick Gates, Manafort’s former right-hand man and the government’s star witness, was the real mastermind of the frauds. Gates had been charged along with Manafort in the case but pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Manafort in exchange for the dismissal of a host of other charges and the possibility of a more lenient sentence.

The defense lawyers also suggested that Manafort had been targeted by prosecutors to pressure him into cooperating with Mueller’s inquiry into possible collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia in the 2016 election.

In his summation last Wednesday, Greg Andres, the lead prosecutor, told the jurors that the essence of the scheme was not complicated. “Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and lied to get more money when he didn’t,” he said.

Manafort faces a second criminal trial next month in Washington on seven other charges brought by the special counsel, including obstruction of justice, failure to register as a foreign agent, and conspiracy to launder money.

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The trial in Alexandria drew lines of spectators that wound around the courthouse and was punctuated by moments of high drama. It examined in some detail Manafort’s sumptuous lifestyle, including his $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket and $1,500 dress shirts, and the meticulously landscaped flower bed in the shape of a giant “M” at his 10-bedroom Hamptons estate in New York.

Gates, who was on the stand far longer than any other witness, appeared confident when questioned by prosecutors. But his credibility came under assault during cross-examination by defense lawyers, who questioned him about his “secret life” with a paramour in a London flat.

Andres and Judge T.S. Ellis III, who presided over the trial, butted heads repeatedly. Andres complained that the judge interrupted every time the prosecution questioned a witness. Ellis responded that Andres was so frustrated that he appeared on the verge of tears, which Andres denied.

As the prosecution in Virginia wound up its case last week, the proceedings suddenly ground to a mysterious halt, raising hopes among Manafort’s allies that Ellis might declare a mistrial. But after hours of secret discussions between the judge and the lawyers for both sides, the trial resumed.

Andres argued that the evidence of Manafort’s guilt was contained in documents that he himself wrote or signed and sent to his accountants, to loan officers, and to Gates. While Gates was “no Boy Scout,” Andres said, his account was buttressed by other witnesses, including Manafort’s tax accountant.

The accountant, Cynthia Laporta, said she forwarded documents from Manafort to bank loan officers even though she believed they were false.

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The defense said that Manafort had foolishly trusted Gates to handle his personal and business finances and had relied on a phalanx of accountants and loan officers to flag serious mistakes in his financial filings.

Only after investigators began “going through each piece of paper and finding anything that doesn’t match up to add to the weight of evidence against Mr. Manafort” did the discrepancies come to light, said Richard Westling, one of Manafort’s five lawyers.

His attorneys called no witnesses, relying instead on their belief that withering cross-examination of Gates had undercut his credibility and undermined the prosecution’s case.

Using multicolored flow charts in an attempt to simplify complex transactions, prosecutors tried to show that Manafort concealed more than $60 million in income in 31
foreign bank accounts opened in the names of shell companies.

The money came from Ukrainian oligarchs who paid Manafort to boost the career of Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician who, with Manafort’s help, was elected president of Ukraine in 2010.

Financial analysts for the FBI and the IRS testified that Manafort transferred more than $15 million from those accounts to pay for homes, clothing, rugs, home renovations and entertainment systems.

Defense lawyers acknowledged that Manafort had no income by the time the Trump campaign hired him in March 2016 as a volunteer, first to manage delegates to the Republican National Convention, then as campaign chairman. Still, he bought his annual season tickets to the New York Yankees, charging $210,600 to his American Express card that went unpaid for nearly a year.

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In order to persuade three banks to loan him a total of $20 million, prosecutors said, Manafort added millions of dollars in fake income to his financial statements. Defense lawyers contended that the banks were well aware of Manafort’s overall financial situation, and gave him loans because he had a net worth of $21.2 million and valuable real estate as collateral.