ALEXANDRIA: US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort went on trial on Tuesday on charges brought by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Manafort, 69, is charged with bank and tax fraud related to his lobbying activities on behalf of the former Russian-backed government of Ukraine.
The charges against Manafort — the first member of Trump’s election team to go on trial — were brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, but they are not connected to the defendant’s tenure as Trump’s campaign chairman.
Selection of a 12-member jury for “USA vs Manafort” began at 10:00 am (1400 GMT) before US District Court Judge T.S. Ellis in a courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.
Jury selection is expected to last a day or two, and the trial is then expected to last about three weeks.
Graying at the temples and somewhat leaner after a month in prison, Manafort was dressed in a dark suit and white shirt when he arrived in court.
He appeared relaxed and did not make any remarks.
A few anti-Trump protesters gathered outside the courthouse holding signs reading “Lock Him Up”, “It’s Mueller Time” and “Trump Wouldn’t Spend One Second In Prison For You.” Angelique Brickner, a 53-year-old artist, and her 17-year-old daughter were among the members of the public who snared seats in the packed courtroom.
“I came here because I want to see justice done and prove to my daughter that there is justice when the world is upside down,” Brickner said.
Manafort, a veteran Republican political consultant who worked for Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole, served as chairman of Trump’s presidential election campaign for three months in 2016 before being forced to step down amid questions about his lobbying work in Ukraine.
He is charged with filing false tax returns for not reporting bank accounts he held in Cyprus and other countries in a bid to hide millions of dollars in income from activities on behalf of Ukraine’s former pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych.
He also stands accused of failing to report the existence of foreign bank accounts to the Internal Revenue Service and bank fraud related to several multi-million-dollar loans he obtained from various banks.
Prosecutors plan to produce nearly three dozen witnesses during the trial, including Manafort’s former associate Rick Gates, who is cooperating with the government after pleading guilty to lesser charges in February.
Five witnesses have been granted immunity to testify against Manafort. Mueller has indicted more than 30 people so far in connection with his probe into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to help get the real estate tycoon elected.
Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2018