A federal jury in Virginia convicted Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, on eight counts of bank and tax fraud on Tuesday, but was deadlocked on the 10 other charges he faced.
The trial was the first public test of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and while the special counsel was vindicated, the victory wasn’t total.
The jury deliberated for four days after hearing 12 days of arguments, evidence and witnesses. Mueller’s team buried the defendant in an avalanche of emails, tax returns, bank documents, and the damning testimony of bankers, accountants, and Manafort’s onetime protégé, Rick Gates. The defense sought to raise doubts about Gates’ credibility and about other aspects of the evidence, and was partially successful. The 10 counts will be considered a mistrial.
Manafort, 69, also faces another trial on related charges next month in Washington.
He came to the Trump campaign with deep ties to Russian figures, and he was the only non-Trump-family member from the campaign team to participate in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer, which was set up on the promise of incriminating information about Trump’s opponent.
He also played a role in an effort to soften a plank in the Republican Party platform calling for lethal aid to Ukrainians fighting the Russian invasion of their country.
The charges at issue in the Manafort trial, which began July 31 in Alexandria, Virginia, weren’t directly related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, but painted a startling picture of a senior campaign figure who appears to have had the motive, means and opportunity to help the Russians.
By the time he went to work for the Trump campaign for free in the summer of 2016, Manafort had no income and was in a precarious financial position, prosecutors showed. He was so desperate for cash that he felt compelled to defraud banks, lying about his income and debts, prosecutors said, offering pages of documents and a parade of witnesses who testified to inconsistencies with his loan paperwork.
“Mr. Manafort lied when he had money and lied to get more money when he didn’t,” prosecutor Greg Andres told the jury in his closing argument. “This is a case about lies.”
For Manafort, a graduate of Georgetown Law School and an adviser to five Republican presidential campaigns, it’s been a stunning collapse — first financial, and now, a life-altering criminal conviction.
He was paid some $60 million over 10 years by a Russian-backed political party in Ukraine, the prosecution showed, and evaded taxes on about half that income by parking it in overseas accounts and disguising it as loans.
But after his Ukrainian client, former president Viktor Yanukovych, fled to exile in Russia in 2014, the spigot of cash turned off, and Manafort began defrauding banks to raise cash to pay for his lavish lifestyle.
Somehow, much of the cash was gone — spent on bespoke suits, homes all over the world and the upkeep that such a lifestyle demands.
His defense team said in closing arguments that the government failed to meet its burden of proof that Manafort was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, one of the reasons it called no witnesses to testify. Kevin Downing, Manafort’s lead attorney, also argued that Gates was the real criminal, responsible for filing foreign bank account forms and for the false information provided to accountants.
“He is the one who had the signing authority,” Downing said, adding that Manafort trusted Gates so much that he gave him the keys to his financials. “What a mistake that was.”
But for the jury, the evidence was sufficient to convict Manafort of at least some financial felonies.