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Manafort trial begins in biggest test yet for special counsel Robert Mueller

31 July 2018

What's likely to be missing: answers about whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election, or really any mention of Russian Federation at all.

Manafort is also facing charges of acting as an unregistered foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering and making false statements, but those will be heard in a second trial, scheduled for September in Washington, D.C.

Manafort's lawyers are attempting to block the 51 exhibits detailing this work from court, claiming the evidence is "irrelevant, prejudicial and unnecessarily time-consuming evidence", Bloomberg reports, but Mueller's team say the documents are needed to prove the full scope of Manafort's earnings.

Manafort's trial promises tales of lavish spending, secret shell companies and millions of dollars of Ukrainian money flowing through offshore bank accounts and into the political consultant's pocket.

Ellis, a 77-year-old Ronald Reagan appointee, expressed skepticism that Mueller's team actually cares about the former Trump campaign chairman's alleged crimes, saying, "I don't see what relation this indictment has with what the special counsel is authorized to investigate".

And it will unfold at a delicate time for the president as Mueller's team presses for an interview and as Trump escalates his attacks on an investigation he calls a "witch hunt". The judge in the case, T.S. Ellis, has said that he doesn't think it will need to go longer than three weeks and would like it to wrap up in two.

Short of an acquittal, the best hope for Manafort to avoid jail time remains a presidential pardon. He pleaded not guilty, and through a spokesman said, "This fight is just beginning".

Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud related to his lobbying activities on behalf of the former Russian-backed government of Ukraine.

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The heart of the government's case involves nine years of Manafort's lucrative lobbying and consulting for Ukraine and its former leader Victor Yanukovych, work the USA government said Manafort should have registered with the Justice Department. He also questioned why Mueller's office was pursuing the bank fraud charges against Manafort, but has handed off the investigation of Michael Cohen to prosecutors in Manhattan.

Five witnesses have been granted immunity from prosecution to testify against Manafort. But he was ensnared in the Russian Federation investigation a year ago after Mueller began examining ties between Trump campaign staff and Russian Federation.

Prosecutors preparing witnesses for the upcoming trial of President Donald Trump's one-time campaign chairman Paul J. Manafort are advising them to avoid mentioning Trump's name, ABC News has learned.

"Mueller only has to secure one conviction on one count to put Manafort away for as much as a decade", he said.

But prosecutors' star witness is likely to be Gates, who worked closely with Manafort in Ukraine and later followed him into Trump's campaign as deputy chairman.

"The depth of the charges against Paul Manafort is such that at some point, the best decision for him will be to try to cut a deal", said Lisa Griffin, a former federal prosecutor who is now a law professor at Duke University.

Over the next three weeks a jury in Alexandria, Virginia, is expected to hear descriptions of his lavish lifestyle and Cypriot shell companies, his ties with Ukrainian oligarchs, and allegedly fraudulent property deals created to deceive the U.S. tax authorities.

Manafort has spent the past month in prison in Alexandria outside Washington after having his house arrest and $10 million bail revoked by a federal judge for allegedly tampering with witnesses in another pending case.

Manafort trial begins in biggest test yet for special counsel Robert Mueller