- A jury on Tuesday found Paul Manafort guilty of eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud, and failure to report foreign bank accounts after a high-stakes criminal trial.
- They were unable to reach a verdict on the other 10 counts he was accused of, and the judge declared a mistrial on those charges.
- Manafort is the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign; he was indicted in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
- Trump commented on the news as he arrived in West Virginia for a campaign rally Tuesday night: “It doesn’t involve me, but it’s a very sad thing that happened. This has nothing to with Russian collusion.”
- Trump did not immediately comment on Michael Cohen, his longtime personal lawyer who signed a plea deal within minutes of the Manafort verdict on Tuesday.
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A jury in Alexandria, Virginia, found Paul Manafort guilty on eight counts on Tuesday, following a high-stakes criminal trial that gripped the nation for weeks.
Manafort was convicted on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failure to report foreign bank accounts.
The former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign was indicted as part of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Manafort was charged in Virginia with 18 counts in total, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict on 10 of the counts. US District Judge T.S. Ellis III declared a mistrial on those charges.
He hasn’t been sentenced yet, but legal experts speculated that Manafort could spend years in prison.
Trump commented on the news as he arrived in West Virginia for a campaign rally Tuesday night.
“It doesn’t involve me, but it’s a very sad thing that happened,” he said. “This has nothing to with Russian collusion.”
Trump added: “This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. This started as Russian collusion. This has absolutely nothing to do – this is a witch hunt.”
The president did not immediately comment on Michael Cohen, his longtime personal attorney who signed on to a plea deal within minutes of the Manafort verdict Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier Tuesday, the jury sent a note to Ellis asking him what would happen “if we cannot come to a consensus on a single count.” They asked how they should fill in the verdict form in that case, and “what does that mean for the final verdict.”
Ellis said he would give the jury directions on continuing their deliberations to see whether they could reach a unanimous conclusion, but said he would not issue a new verdict form.
Manafort’s lawyer suggested earlier in the day that jurors should be given a third option on the form – specifically, a “hung jury” option for each count, which has never been done before.
After the verdict was read, Ellis excused the jury and encouraged them not to talk to the press, but did not explicitly bar them from doing so.
“I suggest to you that you have a duty of confidentiality,” he said, according to CNN.
What happened during the trial
Manafort’s trial kicked off last month. The jury first heard 10 days’ worth of evidence from the prosecution, aided by over a dozen witnesses who testified to Manafort’s crimes.
Prosecutors showed the jury scores of documents and emails that they said painted a clear money trail from Ukraine to Manafort’s overseas accounts to US vendors Manafort dealt with.
Greg Andres, the lead Justice Department lawyer on the case, emphasised the government’s claim that Manafort wilfully did not disclose his foreign bank accounts, stashed money in his offshore accounts to avoid reporting it as income, and later sought to falsely inflate his income to secure loans when his finances dried up.
“Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn’t,” Andres said during closing arguments.
While making the prosecution’s argument, Andres frequently returned to one phrase: “Mr. Manafort’s lies.” Specifically, he said the jury should focus on Manafort’s alleged falsehoods and not the credibility of Rick Gates, the government’s main witness against Manafort, whom the defence repeatedly cast as a liar who threw Manafort under the bus.
Andres said during closing arguments that the jury didn’t need to trust or like Gates. Instead, he said, the jury should focus on what Gates said and how it stacked up against the testimony given by other critical witnesses, like Manafort’s former bookkeeper, accountant, and tax preparers.
When he took the stand, Gates admitted to committing crimes with Manafort, but he also admitted to embezzling millions from his former boss and having an extramarital affair a decade ago.
Andres sought to shift attention away from Gates during his closing argument, saying at one point that “the star witness in this case is the documents.”
When it was their turn, Manafort’s lawyers cast a political shadow over the proceedings, arguing that Mueller’s case was comprised of “selective” evidence that didn’t amount to any crime.
The defence also said the prosecution failed to show that one of the banks Manafort is accused of defrauding relied on false information. They also said, more broadly, that the government had not proven that Manafort acted intentionally to commit the alleged crimes.
Manafort’s lead defence attorney, Kevin Downing, said last week that his client was choosing to let the case go to the jury because he and his attorneys “do not believe that the government has met its burden of proof.”
During closing arguments last Wednesday, Richard Westling, one of Manafort’s lawyers, implied that Mueller’s team had embarked on a fishing expedition to nail Manafort down and suggested that if any other prosecutors had been looking into the matter, Manafort wouldn’t have been indicted.
The charges against Manafort weren’t brought until “the special counsel showed up and started asking questions,” Westling said.
Manafort is set to face trial as part of a second indictment from Mueller in Washington, DC, in September.
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