The case is being prosecuted by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Here is what happened on the second day of the proceedings.
- President Trump weighed in on the trial for the first time, asking his Twitter followers if Manafort was being “treated worse” than notorious gangster Al Capone.
- Witnesses described how Manafort paid for a life of luxury — spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on suits and home renovations — via wire transfers from foreign bank accounts.
- The judge repeatedly warned prosecutors not to dwell on the extravagance of the purchases Manafort made.
- Prosecutors suggested they might not call Manafort’s former business partner, Richard Gates, as a witness. They also revealed they are ahead of schedule and could rest their case next week.
4:57 p.m.: Trial to resume Thursday with more vendor testimony, followed by bookkeepers and tax accountants
After jurors left, prosecutor Greg Andres said that two more vendors will testify tomorrow — Joel Maxwell and Michael Regolizio — followed by Manafort’s bookkeepers and tax accountants.
“I think you’re on track to do better than anybody expected” in terms of speed, Ellis said, but added there were no guarantees.
“There’s plenty of slips between the cup and the lip,” he quipped.
Court begins again Thursday at 9:30 a.m.
4:52 p.m.: Final witness testifies about work on home of Manafort’s daughter
The final witness of the day was Doug DeLuca, who owns a design and construction firm in Northern Virginia. He was the eighth witness to testify Wednesday, and the ninth to take the witness stand overall.
DeLuca testified that his company was hired in 2012 to design and build “an outdoor concept” at the Arlington home of Andrea Manafort, Paul Manafort’s older daughter. The project included an outdoor kitchen, outdoor living room, an antique brick deck and a pergola.
Asked what a pergola was, DeLuca provided an indepth explanation of the wooden trellis, with natural growth twisted vines. His detailed description earned the prosecutors one more scolding from Judge T.S. Ellis III, who complained the jury had no need to hear such detailed descriptions of the work.
DeLuca explained that Paul Manafort was his primary contact for the project. He read aloud an email from Manafort, in which Manafort told DeLuca he would deal with Andrea Manafort on design but with him on the contract and budgeting.
DeLuca testified the more than $100,000 in bills was all paid by Lucicle Consultants, which jurors have previously heard is a foreign account.
Testimony has concluded for the day.
4:37 p.m.: Discrepancies in invoices highlighted, but the significance is unclear
Prosecutors have twice Wednesday pointed to invoices that witnesses have described as inaccurate, but they have not made clear the implication of the discrepancies.
Early in the afternoon, high-end suit purveyor Maximillian Katzman testified about a bill purportedly from the company he worked for, Alan Couture, to the company “Global Endeavour.” But “Couture” was misspelled, the zip code was wrong, and Alan Couture never billed Global Endeavour.
Defense attorney Jay Nanavati asked if Katzman was aware of Rick Gates’ “level of education and spelling abilities.” Katzman said he was not. He said he never met Rick Gates, although he sometimes emailed with him about Manafort.
Later, Stephen Jacobsen testified that a bill to Global Endeavour had “a faint imprint” of his home improvement company’s logo. But he said there was no address for the project, and the $130,000 bill was for “architecture and design,” something Jacobsen said he had never done.
“For that kind of money, I would like to,” he quipped.
Jacobsen testified that at one point several of his business bank accounts were closed, and he asked Manafort “if it had anything to do with him.”
“He told me, ‘Don’t worry about it,'” Jacobsen testified. He said Manafort paid him through HSBC Bank, where both men had accounts.
4:26 p.m.: Contractor: Manafort spent more than $3 million on home renovations
In a continuing effort to show Paul Manafort tried to evade taxes by paying vendors from foreign accounts, prosecutors called a contractor who performed nearly $3.3 million of work on the homes of Manafort and his family in the New York area.
Stephen Jacobsen, who owns the home improvement company SP&C, testified he “absolutely” considered Manafort a good client.
“He provided more and more work on larger projects,” Jacobsen said.
Between 2010 and 2014, Jacobsen testified he did work on Manafort’s Trump Tower property, a home in Brooklyn and a house Manafort had built for his wife’s younger brother. One of Jacobsen’s big projects was on Manafort’s home in Bridgehampton, N.Y., which is the Hamptons area. Jacobsen expanded the dining room and did a full kitchen renovation.
Jacobsen testified that the projects were paid for by wire transfers from Cyprus, including from a Manafort-controlled entity called Global Highway Limited.
4 p.m.: Real estate agent and neighbor describes Manafort’s involvement in daughter’s home purchase
Wayne Holland, a real estate agent and neighbor of Paul and Kathleen Manafort, was the next witness, prosecutors’ seventh overall.
Holland testified that he has known Manafort for over 30 years. He first met the Manaforts while visiting friends who lived nearby, before he himself moved in across the street. He said that as he was looking out the window, he happened to see a bolt of lightning shoot down from the sky, striking the Manaforts’ chimney and scattering rocks all around.
Holland said he met Paul Manafort when he and his friends called to ensure the Manaforts were OK.
Holland testified that he had watched both of Paul Manafort’s daughters, Andrea and Jessica, grow up, and in 2012 served as Andrea Manafort’s real estate agent when she purchased a home in Arlington. He told the jury that Paul Manafort was closely involved in the purchase of the home.
Paul Manafort was the first one to call Holland and alert him to Andrea Manafort’s interest, and he and his wife both toured the home before she decided to proceed with the purchase, Holland testified. Ultimately, Holland testified that the Andrea Manafort paid the down payment on the home, but Paul Manafort paid the remainder of the all-cash purchase.
Holland read an email aloud to the jury from Paul Manafort that indicated he would be paying for the $1.9 million home through a wire transfer from Lucicle Consultants, which jurors learned earlier was a Cyprus-based bank account. Holland told the jury that he has never met Manafort’s business partner Rick Gates, and Gates played no role in the transaction. That is important because defense attorneys have sought to cast the blame for Manafort’s alleged misdeeds on Gates.
Under cross examination, Holland told the jurors that Paul Manafort is one of the nicest neighbors he has had.
3:42 p.m.: Prosecutors point to Manafort’s vehicle purchases, wire transfers
Prosecutors’ fifth witness Wednesday, and sixth overall, was Daniel Opsut, a salesman at Mercedes Benz of Alexandria.
Opsut testified that Kathleen Manafort, Paul Manafort’s wife, paid for a new SL550 in 2012 with a wire transfer from Lucicle Consultants Ltd, one of the Cypriot shell companies prosecutors say Manafort used to hide his Ukrainian income. The car cost $124,000 but Manafort traded in two older Mercedes, an E350 convertible and an SL500, saving herself $56,000.
“It’s not common, but it’s not unheard of” for customers to pay by wire transfer, Opsut testified.
The government also introduced a stipulation that Paul Manafort and his daughter Andrea used a $83,525 wire transfer from Lucicle Consultants to buy a 2012 Land Rover Range Rover from Don Beyer Motors in April of 2012. A stipulation means Manafort’s defense does not contest that piece of evidence.
Paul and Kathleen Manafort used the same company to lease a 2012 Range Roger with a $12,525 down payment that same month. In June, they bought a Range Rover, and, again, $67,655 of the cost was paid for through Lucicle Consultants.
3:27 p.m.: Prosecution could rest case next week
Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye told Judge T.S. Ellis III following an afternoon break that the prosecution is ahead of schedule and could rest its case next week.
That timeline means the trial would end sooner than the three weeks prosecutors had initially said they thought it would last.
Asonye’s comments come after he told the judge earlier in the day that he may or may not call the prosecution’s star witness.
Asonye said prosecutors were trying to shorten the trial, and that they were making case-by-case decisions on which witnesses to call, depending on the evidence.
Rick Gates, Manafort’s former partner, was expected to provide key evidence about his boss’s finances.
Ellis has been pushing prosecutors to speed up their case and has expressed annoyance about the volume of evidence they have attempted to introduce at various points. His court district, the Eastern District of Virginia, has a reputation for pushing cases through quickly, earning it the nickname “Rocket Docket” among D.C.-area lawyers.
3:01 p.m.: Manafort’s two-year bill at House of Bijan: $334,000
Ronald Wall tallied for the jury the total amount that Paul Manafort spent on House of Bijan items, including a Limited Edition black titanium Royal Way watch — with crystal, an invoice noted.
Between 2010 and 2012, Wall told the jury that Manafort spent more than $334,000 at the luxury menswear store. He then walked the jury through documents showing that the invoices were paid from Cyprus-based bank accounts held by Global Highway Limited, Yiakora Ventures Limited and Lucicle Consultants.
Wall was briefly cross-examined by defense attorney Jay Nanavati, telling the jury that he never had interactions with Manafort and did not know anything about his purchases beyond what the records demonstrate. That is important because prosecutors are trying to tie Manafort directly to the movement of his money, which they say he failed to pay taxes on.
Asked in the hallway after leaving the stand about his own suit, Wall opened his suit jacket to show its lime-green lining, which matched his silk lime green tie. The suit was made by Bijan, he said.
“Very fine wool,” he said. “Super great stuff.”
2:35 p.m.: Manafort bought suits from ‘The World’s Most Expensive Store’
House of Bijan in Beverly Hills bills itself as “the world’s most expensive store.” Ronald Wall, its chief financial officer and prosecutors’ fourth witness Wednesday, took the stand to testify that Paul Manafort was a top client of the luxury clothier.
“I knew he was a very good customer,” said Wall.
Prosecutors did not focus simply on the purchases themselves, but rather, how Manafort paid for them — via wire transfers. Like the previous witness, Wall said many customers paid with credit cards, checks and sometimes cash, but it was unusual for a client to pay with wire transfers, as Manafort regularly did at House of Bijan.
Wall testified that House of Bijan was an exclusive retailer: its clothing is only sold in its store and the items are made in Italy by less than two dozen companies the retailer has built a relationship.
As with earlier witnesses, the focus on Manafort’s lavish spending drew the irritation of Judge T.S. Ellis III, who questioned how it proved the government’s case that Manafort filed false tax returns.
“You have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he signed tax documents to show he knowingly didn’t represent his true income,” Ellis told prosecutors.
2:18 p.m.: Witness: Manafort spent hundreds of thousands on suits, paid by wire transfers from foreign bank accounts
Luxury menswear seller Maximillian Katzman told the jury that Paul Manafort was unique in certain ways for Alan Couture. For one, he purchased an unusually high number of suits. Katzman testified that Manafort was one of the store’s top five customers.
For another, he paid in unusual ways. Unlike most customers who paid by check, Katzman testified, Manafort paid by wire transfers from foreign bank accounts. He was the only of the store’s customers to do so, Katzman testified.
Katzman then was asked to review invoices from Manafort’s purchases. For a long moment, the jury sat in silence as Katzman flipped through a book of exhibits, invoice after invoice after invoice — a striking demonstration of just how many suits Manafort purchased. At the end, Katzman walked through the total dollar figure of Manafort’s purchases in the years between 2010 and 2014.
Manafort spent nearly $104,000 in 2010, and more than $444,000 in 2013. Added up, the figures show Manafort spent more than $929,000 on luxury menswear during the five-year period, paid for from foreign bank accounts.
Judge T.S. Ellis III continued to show impatience with questions from prosecutors that he believed were intended merely to display Manafort’s lavish lifestyle. For instance, he allowed Katzman to describe Manafort’s annual spending but not to add up the total for jurors.
“Let’s move on. Enough is enough,” Ellis said sternly. “They can add.”
Katzman testified that Manafort’s payments came from accounts under the name Yiakora Ventures Limited and Global Highway Limited, both Cyrpus-based accounts prosecutors will argue were controlled by Manafort.
Paul Manafort was one of only about 40 clients of Alan Couture, a “luxury menswear boutique” in Midtown Manhattan, 29-year-old Maximillian Katzman testified Wednesday just after the lunch break.
Katzman, who wore a shiny blue suit with a blue-and-white striped tie and a cream colored pocket square, said Manafort was a client “as long as I worked there” and was “absolutely” an important one.
Until last year Katzman was the manager of the business, which was founded by his father, Alan Katzman.
The younger Katzman began working there in 2008. Katzman testified that his father met Manafort at House of Bijan, another luxury menswear boutique, when that business was located in New York. It’s now on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
Asked if all Alan Couture clients are important, Katzman replied, “I don’t want to answer that,” to laughter from the courtroom. He said Manafort bought suits, sports coats, outerwear and other menswear.
2 p.m.: White House Press Secretary says Trump thinks Manafort has been ‘treated unfairly’
Asked about the president’s Tweets about Paul Manafort earlier Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Certainly, the president’s been clear. He thinks Paul Manfort’s been treated unfairly.”
Sanders deflected a question, though, on whether Trump believed Manafort was “innocent.”
“I don’t believe that that’s the president’s role to play,” she said.
1:19 p.m.: ‘I hope he is innocent. But I don’t know.’: Manafort’s former business partner describes happier times
Paul Manafort’s former business partner, Charlie Black, recalled happier times in the 1980s when the two men – along with Republican operative Roger Stone – formed a lobbying and consulting firm that would become a K Street powerhouse, Black, Manafort & Stone.
Black sat down a few weeks ago with a Washington Post video team and recalled the heady era when he and Manafort went in to business together.
“Paul was very smart and impressive and outgoing,” Black said describing the Manafort he knew in 1980. “When he did a good job for [Ronald] Reagan and Reagan won, there was a whole network of people around the country who came in to Washington to work for President Reagan,” he said. “By the time we started our business he had a lot of contacts both in Congress and around the administration.”
Black knew of Manafort’s political acumen but he quickly showed himself to be a brilliant lobbyist, impressing members of Congress and key members of the new administration, some of whom he knew from the campaign.
“He’s able to study and learn policy issues very quickly,” Black recalled. “And he’s a good strategist and he’s good with people.’’ Manafort was also a brilliant salesman, always keen to make a good impression, Black said.
“Even when we were poor, Paul dressed well and tried to make a good impression on people,” he said. He recalled that by 1983 the young principals in the firm were making six figures and decided to get company cars. “Paul got a Mercedes.”
He noted the work Manafort did professionalizing the Trump campaign before his resignation and he termed his former’s partner’s indictment “a tragedy.” He said he had not followed Manafort’s career closely for the past decades.
“I hope he is innocent,” he said. “But I don’t know.”
1:06 p.m.: Why Richard Gates is such a pivotal figure
Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye surprised those watching the Paul Manafort trial Wednesday when he vaguely suggested Richard Gates, Manafort’s former business partner, might not testify. Gates was expected to be the prosecutors’ star witness, a man who could describe the fraud that the government says Manafort perpetrated because he was a part of it. He has also been the focus of Manafort’s defense attorneys, as they say Gates embezzled money from Manafort’s company and committed fraud to cover his own tracks.
As Rachel Weiner explained in her post looking at the characters in the Manafort trial, Gates and Manafort were close. She wrote:
Gates started his career as an intern at the aggressive, controversial political consulting firm Manafort co-founded, working closely with Republican lobbyist Rick Davis. Gates left the firm to work for companies in the lottery and gaming business, former partner Charlie Black has said. But he reunited with Davis and Manafort at their new firm in 2006 and became, in the words of his indictment, Manafort’s “right-hand man.” Manafort had just begun doing political consulting work for Viktor Yanukovych, an aspiring Ukrainian politician with ties to Russian oligarchs.
Gates would go on to help Manafort with that work, and prosecutors say both men committed fraud. But Gates pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy and lying to the FBI and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Court observers figured his testimony would be a highlight of the trial.
It still could be. Asonye said there was nothing particular about Gates that made it such that prosecutors might not call him, only that the government was trying to speed the case along. If prosecutors did not, they would have to rely on documents and other witnesses — who perhaps were not as intimately involved in the dealings as Gates was — to build their case.
12:45 p.m.: At least three more witnesses expected in the afternoon
The trial has broken for lunch, and the parties will return at 1:30 p.m. Prosecutors told the judge that they would aim to hear from at least three witnesses this afternoon.
Maximillian Katzman, Ronald Wall, and Daniel Opsut are set to testify. Katzman works for one of Manafort’s suit makers, according to an interview in “MR: The Menswear Industry’s Magazine.” Wall is the chief financial officer for House of Bijan, according to his LinkedIn profile. Opsut works for Mercedes-Benz of Alexandria, according to the business’s website and his LinkedIn profile.
The three are likely to testify about the things Manafort bought with the money he earned from his Ukraine work. Judge T.S. Ellis III has been skeptical of that line of inquiry, saying he felt it “unnecessary” for prosecutors to tout Manafort’s life of luxury to prove their case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye surprised the judge when he casually mentioned that Richard Gates, Paul Manafort’s former partner and the expected star witness of the case, may or may not testify. The prosecutor was responding to a question about an agenda from a meeting with Gates in 2013.
“He may testify, he may not,” Asonye said of Gates. “We’re trying to shorten the trial.”
The prosecutor said that was not because of anything particular to Gates; every witness, he said, might not be necessary depending on how the evidence unfolds. Ellis said it was news to him and obviously many others.
“Twenty-five people just scurried out of here like rats leaving a sinking ship,” Ellis said, referring to reporters who left the courtroom to post about what the prosecutors said.
Gates not taking the stand would be a curious development in the case. Prosecutors had accused Gates of being a participant in most of the fraud that Manafort is charged with, and he would be able to provide an intimate window into what they were doing. Earlier this year, Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Manafort’s lawyers, though, have made Gates the centerpiece of their defense. They have said Gates embezzled money from the men’s business and the fraud was meant to hide his own misdeeds.
“Rick Gates had his hand in the cookie jar and he couldn’t take the risk that his boss might find out,” one of Manafort’s defense attorneys said Tuesday.
12:01 p.m.: Judge stops prosecution from showing pictures of luxury suits, for now
FBI Special Agent Matthew Mikuska has retaken the stand, but his testimony may not be as colorful as prosecutors may have hoped. Judge T.S. Ellis III expressed continued displeasure with the prosecution’s desire to enter detailed evidence about the items Paul Manafort purchased with money routed from offshore bank accounts.
Ellis deferred on ruling whether prosecutors may enter photos of luxury suits found in Manafort’s condo until later in the trial, indicating he wants to better understand whether the pictures are necessary to prove they were purchased with income hidden in foreign bank accounts.
But he denied prosecutor Uzo Asonye’s request to show the jury pictures of the suits and their high-end labels, which means the pictures were also not shown to the public.
The prosecutors’ proposed exhibit list contains a list of photos of various items Manafort had purchased that the special counsel’s office appeared interested in displaying to the jury. Ellis’s reticence may mean few or none are displayed, leaving jurors to learn about Manafort’s purchases entirely from invoices and other documents.
11:57 a.m.: Judge rules that prosecutors can’t offer invoice for home renovations as evidence
Judge T.S. Ellis III ruled that prosecutors cannot enter an invoice for proposed home renovations, saying “All this document shows is that Mr. Manafort had a lavish lifestyle, he had a nice home with a pool and a gazebo — it’s not relevant.”
He also expressed concern about showing the jury photos of Manafort’s expensive suits, although prosecutors said it was necessary to prove the defendant bought and kept those items.
“To parade all of this again seems to me unnecessary,” he said.
The judge’s skepticism could be troublesome for prosecutors, who are trying to present the case that Manafort lived a life of luxury but paid no taxes on money he earned.
On Manafort’s items from “House of Bijan,” a menswear company that bills itself as the world’s most expensive, Ellis expressed confusion.
“Is it Bi – yan?” he asked, pronouncing the word as if it was Spanish. Company founder, Bijan Pakzad, was Iranian and the name is pronounced with a hard “J.”
“I can’t recognize these names,” Ellis said. “If it doesn’t say ‘Men’s Wearhouse,’ I don’t know it.”
11:53 a.m.: Trump tweets again, asks if Manafort was ‘treated worse’ than Al Capone
Just before noon, President Trump again tweeted an apparent critique of the special counsel’s treatment of Paul Manafort, asking followers if his former campaign chairman was “treated worse” than the notorious gangster Al Capone.
“Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and ‘Public Enemy Number One,’ or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement – although convicted of nothing?” Trump wrote. “Where is the Russian Collusion?”
The sentiments Trump expressed are not entirely new. He has previously said he “Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob,” and he has long asserted that Manafort’s case has nothing to do with whether his campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Earlier Wednesday, he Tweeted similar sentiments and noted Manafort “worked for me for a very short time.”
But coming during the trial, Trump’s comments are notable. If coverage of them reached jurors, that could affect the case.
Trump’s reference to Manafort “serving solitary confinement” is somewhat specious. When he was housed in a Northern Neck, Va., facility, prosecutors said he was treated like a “VIP.” He was given his own phone and computer, allowed to write emails and did not have to wear a uniform. He was later moved to the jail in Alexandria, where he is mostly alone, though that is because he is in protective custody as a high-profile figure.
11:38 a.m.: ‘Rein in your facial expressions,’ judge admonishes lawyers on both sides
Judge T.S. Ellis III said that while he hasn’t seen it himself, he’s been told that lawyers on both sides have “rolled their eyes” after leaving bench conferences.
The implication, he said, is, “‘Why do we have to put up with this idiot judge?'”
“Don’t do that,” he told the lawyers. “It’s inappropriate.”
He said that if he had seen it himself, “I might be a little upset,” but that his eyes are not what they were 40, 50 or 60 years ago. Ellis is 78 years old.
“Rein in your facial expressions,” he concluded.
(Now is a good time to re-up this profile of Ellis by The Post’s Rachel Weiner.)
11:30 a.m.: Judge grills prosecutors for a second time
After the defense raised an objection to prosecutors introducing an invoice seized in an FBI raid for proposed work on a Manafort home, Judge T.S. Ellis III dismissed the jury for a break — and then grilled prosecutors for a second time.
Ellis expressed skepticism over how the invoice actually advanced the prosecution’s case that Manafort filed false tax returns and did not fully report money he had made to the Internal Revenue Service. Furthermore, he worried that it might prejudice the jury against Manafort.
Ellis asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye if it showed “just that Manafort is awash in money?”
Asonye argued the document furthered the prosecution’s case because it showed that Manafort had hid money from tax preparers and a bookkeeper, and that he used money from accounts in Cyprus to pay for a long list of luxury items. Those expenditures were never reported on tax returns.
Ellis said he would take the argument under advisement and decide later whether to allow the invoice to be introduced. Ellis has signaled some displeasure with the prosecution’s case Wednesday, grousing that it is “gilding the lily” by regularly referring to Manafort’s lavish spending and complaining about the pace. He has interrupted prosecutors on occasion to speed up their questioning and bluntly questioned them at other moments.
11:02 a.m.: Documents show money transfers and home improvement proposals
The trial of Paul Manafort has now entered the document phase. In quick succession, Special Agent Matthew Mikuska has offered brief descriptions of a variety of documents seized during the search of Manafort’s condo in 2017.
Under Judge T.S. Ellis III’s admonishment that prosecutors move rapidly, the documents were each introduced into evidence with little description or guidance to the jury about how they will become important later in the trial. In general, prosecutors appeared to be trying to establish that Manafort was paying for home improvements on various properties he or his family owned over the years that he was working in Ukraine. One document described wire transfers that totaled $3 million. Another showed a proposal for unnamed home improvements for $750,000. The work was listed at properties in the Hamptons, Brooklyn and Florida.
The trial is now on a mid-morning break, with testimony to restart around 11:15 a.m.
10:52 a.m.: FBI agent reveals details of Manafort search
An FBI special agent testified that when a team searched Paul Manafort’s Alexandria condominium last August, they knocked three times and then entered with a key.
They did not have a “no-knock” search warrant allowing them to simply bust into the unit and did not pick the lock, Agent Matthew Mikuska testified.
The agents arrived just after 6 a.m., Mikuska testified. They waited 30 seconds between each knock; no one answered. But when they entered with the key and opened a door to the left, he said, they saw Manafort.
Mikuska described the condo as a “large luxury unit.” Jurors were shown a picture of the building, though the judge questioned its relevance.
10:39 a.m.: Who’s who?
For those just tuning into our trial coverage and having trouble keeping up with who is who, here’s a useful guide to all the players.
10:35 a.m.: Witness describes work in Ukraine
Daniel Rabin continued his testimony by describing the nature of the work he did in Ukraine and the constellation of political consultants who surrounded Paul Manafort. Prosecutors are trying to show the jury the scope of Manafort’s work over roughly a decade in the country. Rabin said he was tasked with making 30-second commercials for various political campaigns ranging from presidential elections to parliamentary races and even a local contest for mayor. Manafort and ultimately, his patron, Viktor Yanukovych, would approve the final cuts of the ads.
Rabin said he met Yanukovych on two occasions, when the former Ukrainian president came to sets to film political ads. Prosecutor Greg Andres showed Rabin a photo from one of the shoots, which was not shown to the courtroom. Rabin testified the photo showed Yanukovych and his staff members being introduced to Rabin and another Manafort employee, Phil Griffin.
Rabin went on to name some of the other American political consultants he worked with in Ukraine, as well as Rick Gates, Manafort’s former partner and the prosecution’s star witness. Gates is scheduled to testify later in the trial and is expected to offer key evidence of Manafort’s financial wrongdoing.
“Rick was the gatekeeper,” Rabin told the jury. “We didn’t want to bother Paul with schedules and invoices.”
Rabin also described the work of Konstantin Kilimnik, saying he worked as translator for Manafort. Kilimnik translated the scripts Rabin produced for ads into Ukraine, before the spots were filmed. The special counsel’s office says in court filings that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence. In all Rabin, said he made roughly 40 trips to Ukraine during the 2006-to-2014 period he worked with Manafort.
10:18 a.m.: A look at the judge presiding over the Manafort trial
Judge T.S. Ellis III began Wednesday’s proceedings by telling prosecutors he was concerned repeated descriptions of Manafort’s Ukraine financiers as “oligarchs” would bias the jury, and asked them to stop using it.
Ellis’s active role in the proceedings should surprise no one who has appeared in his courtroom. The Post’s Rachel Weiner took an in-depth look Wednesday morning at the colorful federal judge, who is known for pointed interjections.
10:12 a.m.: First witness of the day takes the stand
Daniel Rabin, a political ad maker who worked with Paul Manafort in Ukraine from 2006 to 2014, has taken the stand. Under questioning from prosecutor Greg Andres, Rabin began to explain how Manafort’s team put together American-style radio and TV ads for the Ukrainian Party of Regions and its presidential candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, as well as a mayoral candidate.
Under questioning, Rabin noted that his work ended in 2014. This is a touchy spot for prosecutors, who have promised Judge T.S. Ellis III that they will avoid discussion of Russia and its role in Ukraine. In fact, Yanukovych’s term as president ended amid violent street protests, after which he fled to Russia, where he continues to leave.
But on questioning, Rabin did not disclose those facts to the jury. Instead, Andres inquired if something happened in 2014 that caused his partnership with Manafort to conclude. Rabin responded simply, “The project ended.”
Andres continued, “Was there a change in political party in 2014?” “There was,” Rabin responded.
Next, Andres appeared to try to establish that Manafort was a detail-oriented boss who was clearly in charge of his team.
This will be important later, as the defense team has made clear that they intend to argue that Manafort left certain key responsibilities to his associate, Rick Gates.The defense has sought to point the finger at Gates for the fraud and even accused Manafort’s former business partner of embezzlement.
Asked to describe what kind of leader Manafort was, Rabin responded, “He demanded a lot of the people who worked for him. He was thorough. He was strict. He ran a good campaign.”
Before testimony began Wednesday, Judge T.S. Ellis III told prosecutors he was concerned repeated descriptions of Manafort’s Ukraine financiers as “oligarchs” would bias the jury.
“An oligarch is just a despotic power exercised by a privileged few,” Ellis said. “What I want to avoid … is somehow to use the term to mean he was consorting or paid by people who were criminals — there will be no evidence of that.”
Prosecutor Greg Andres protested that the people funding Manafort’s work in Ukraine are commonly referred to there as oligarchs. Political consultant Tad Devine described one such man, Rinat Akhmetov, as an oligarch in his testimony Tuesday.
Ellis interrupted the prosecutor. If the term just referred to a billionaire involved in politics, Ellis said, then both George Soros and the Koch brothers would qualify.
“The term oligarch has come to have a pejorative meaning,” the judge said. “We are not going to have this case find that he associated with despicable people and therefore he’s despicable — that’s not the American way.”
Ellis said the government could file a brief on the issue if they want but did not think use of the term was necessary.
9:54 a.m.: What Trump has said about Manafort in the past
President Trump has praised Paul Manafort — that is when he isn’t distancing himself from him.
As with many topics, the president’s comments on his erstwhile campaign chairman have been shifting, somewhat contradictory and voluminous. One of Trump’s early comments on Manafort’s legal woes came in August 2017. He lamented the FBI raid on Manafort’s Virginia home.
“I’ve always found Paul Manafort to be a very decent man,” Trump said. “He’s like a lot of other people, probably makes consultant fees from all over the place. Who knows? I don’t know. But I thought it was pretty tough stuff to wake him up. Perhaps his family was there. I think that’s pretty tough stuff.”
Trump weighed in again on the day Manafort was indicted in October, attempting to turn the attention to his favorite scapegoat.
“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” Trump wrote on Twitter of the charges. “But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”
By February, Trump was calling Manafort a “respected” and “good” man at a news conference at the White House. When asked by a reporter whether Manafort had any contact with Russian officials during the election, Trump said no. The charges Manafort is facing in Virginia relate to alleged financial wrongdoing, not any Russian collusion.
“Paul Manafort was replaced long before the election took place,” Trump said. “He was only there for a short period of time.”
Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 before being elevated to campaign chairman that May. He left the campaign in August 2016 amid questions about his political consulting work in Ukraine and payments he is alleged to have received.
Trump was equally sympathetic to Manafort in June, shortly before Manafort was slated to appear in federal court. During that hearing, a judge revoked his bond after prosecutors accused Manafort of attempting to influence the testimony of witnesses slated to testify at his trial.
Speaking at an impromptu news conference at the White House, Trump said he felt “badly” about the treatment of Manafort, his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his former attorney Michael Cohen, all of whom have been a focus of the special counsel’s probe.
“I look at some of them where they go back 12 years, like Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign,” Trump told reporters. “I tell you I feel a little bad about it. They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago.”
Later that day, after Manafort’s bond was revoked, Trump took to Twitter, incorrectly typing that Manafort had been “sentenced.”
“Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns,” Trump wrote. “Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob. What about Comey and Crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair!”
Following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July, Trump again offered praise for Manafort in an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News.
“Paul Manafort, who clearly is a nice man,” Trump told the host. “You look at what’s going on with him, it’s like Al Capone. . . . It’s just a sad thing. It’s a very sad thing for our country.”
As prosecutors with the special counsel’s office prepared to call their first witness of the day, President Trump called on Twitter for his attorney general to shut down their investigation and noted the case against Paul Manafort had “nothing to do with Collusion.”
The comment about Manafort came in what is a potentially ongoing attack against Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Trump wrote that Manafort, his former campaign chairman, had “worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders,” but served the Trump campaign “for a very short time.” Manafort was hired by the Trump campaign in March 2016, promoted to chairman in May and stepped down in August after reports about his Ukraine work surfaced.
“Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion – a Hoax!” Trump wrote.
Trump began the attack on Mueller’s office by repeating a quote he said came from lawyer Alan Dershowitz criticizing FBI Agent Peter Strzok — a once key figure in the special counsel probe who was removed from the case because of his anti-Trump texts. By Trump’s account, Dershowitz said Strzok should have recused himself from the case “on day one,” and his remaining in the FBI was “a real issue.”
“This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further,” Trump then wrote in his own voice. “Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”
Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation, making Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein the acting attorney general for that case. That means Sessions would have to violate the terms of his recusal to take such an action. Mueller has been exploring Trump’s efforts to pressure Sessions or force his resignation as part of his look at whether Trump has sought to obstruct justice.
Manafort is the first person that Mueller’s team has brought to trial, though others have pleaded guilty. Manafort’s trial has virtually nothing to do with the core allegation that Mueller is exploring — whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election. But his case is viewed as an important test for special counsel prosecutors.
9:27 a.m.: The most interesting character jurors will likely learn little about
He may be the most interesting character in the Paul Manafort trial, but the jury is unlikely to ever be told the most interesting things about him.
On the first day of Manafort’s tax and bank fraud trial on Tuesday, Manafort’s former business associate Tad Devine was asked more than once about Konstantin Kilimnik. Each time he was asked, Devine, a political consultant who helped Manafort run campaigns in Ukraine, testified that Kilimnik was Manafort’s Kiev-based translator.
But that’s not all the Russian army veteran was. According to court documents previously filed by the special counsel’s office, Kilimnik has been assessed by the FBI to have ties to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence unit that has been accused of hacking Democrats before the 2016 election. Kilimnik, who worked for Manafort starting in 2005, has denied that allegation, indicating he served in the early 1990s in the Russian military but was never involved with intelligence.
Because Manafort speaks no Russian or Ukrainian, people who worked the American consultant in Ukraine have said that Kilimnik became his local alter-ego and was eventually named manager of his Ukraine operations.
Manafort remained in close contact with Kilimnik even after he became Donald Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016. Over email, the two discussed how to use Manafort’s new role to make money. Manafort also asked Kilimnik to extend an offer to hold “private briefings” about the campaign to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire and former Manafort business partner. In August 2016, Kilimnik came to New York and had dinner with Manafort, where the two discussed the presidential campaign.
Just this year, prosecutors have said that Kilimnik, acting on Manafort’s behalf, contacted witnesses who will likely be called in the second of two criminal trials Manafort is facing. That trial is scheduled for September in Washington. As a result, Kilimnik was charged with obstruction of justice. Prosecutors have said he is living in Russia and has not been arrested.
But will any of that come out at the trial now underway in Alexandria? Unlikely. Prosecutors have agreed that they will leave Russia and any suggestion of Trump campaign coordination with Russia out of a trial that will focus on Manafort’s personal finances.
In Alexandria, Kilimnik will likely be known only as Manafort’s translator.
9:15 a.m.: First round of testimony focuses on Ukraine
While Paul Manafort is the one on trial, the first round of testimony is focused in part on how two Democratic strategists worked with him to help strongman Viktor Yanukovych and his Russian-backed, oligarch-funded Party of Regions win power in Ukraine.
The only witness to appear Tuesday, Tad Devine, was Bernie Sanders’s chief strategist in 2016. Wednesday’s first witness is Daniel Rabin, who has worked for Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Providence Rhode Island Mayor Jorge Elorza and the Sierra Club.
Both Devine and Rabin have done significant overseas work; Devine testified Monday that he has worked in nine countries. On his website, Rabin touts his work for former president Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, the Sandinista Renovation Movement in Nicaragua, the Democratic Party of Thailand and several other international campaigns — including a Kiev mayoral race — but not for Yanukovych and the Party of Regions.
Devine’s firm got a $100,000 victory bonus after the 2010 presidential election and a $50,000 bonus after municipal elections later that year, according to financial records entered as exhibits.
“I’m sure you have forgotten about this minor detail, but I haven’t,” Manafort wrote after the 2010 presidential race. “Bonus for success.”
Those records indicate he also made $122,000 for a brief 2014 trip to Kiev to speak to former Party of Regions members who had formed a new party after Yanukovych was ousted from power.
9:10 a.m.: The scene from Day One: A relaxed Manafort at the eye of the Russia storm
Satellite TV trucks lined the outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria. Nearby, a protester waved a sign that said “Russia Ties” that combined the Russian flag and Donald Trump’s signature wide neckties. Inside, a bomb sniffing dog moved through a packed courtroom.
The nation’s most highly anticipated trial in recent memory was about to get underway Tuesday. And Paul Manafort, the man who sits at the eye of the Russia investigation storm, looked relaxed as he sat at the defense table in a black suit, white shirt and gray tie surrounded by a phalanx of attorneys.
As the day wore on, he occasionally joked with his legal team and appeared engaged with his defense. While the jury was being selected Tuesday morning, Manafort leaned toward one attorney seated on his left and then another on his right, seemingly giving his input on which jurors the defense should strike. He could be heard saying one of the juror’s numbers at one point.
Manafort’s wife sat just behind him in the first row of the courtroom, although he rarely turned to engage with her or peek at the throng of reporters, who made up the bulk of the crowd sitting in the audience. They dodged in and out of the courtroom to file feeds.
If Manafort did not appear fazed by the gravity of the moment, some of the jurors did. They reported for jury duty Tuesday morning, only to find themselves thrust into the national spotlight.
Some looked stricken after they were called to sit in the jury box, during jury selection. Others breathed visible sighs of relief after they were dismissed from the same box, figuring they had been passed over.
The drama was high, but often punctuated by moments of humor.
“I hope you will not hurry to slit your wrists,” Judge Ellis joked to the jury, after they were selected. “There is a positive side — the court will provide your lunch each day.”
Soon, the trial was underway.
9 a.m.: What to expect on Day Two of the Manafort trial
Prosecutors and defense attorneys made notable progress on the first day of the Manafort trial. They picked a jury, delivered opening statements and finished questioning their first witness. So what will Day Two bring?
Prosecutors expect their first witness will be Daniel Rabin, a political consultant who worked with Paul Manafort in Ukraine. Rabin – through his firm, Rabin Strasberg, worked with Manafort during several elections there, and Manafort’s firm paid Rabin’s about $350,000 in 2012 for its work.
The two men’s names come up in proposed trial exhibits from 2010 to 2014, in discussions of campaign ads and a video commemorating the UEFA Euro 2012 soccer championship.
“These draft spots are more political than uplifting,” Manafort wrote Rabin of the Democratic consultant’s proposal for that tournament, which was hosted by Ukraine and Poland. Manafort said he wanted something more like Ronald Reagan’s “old ‘Morning in America’ spots in 1984 that was built on the strength of the country and people and hope. . . . We need something less obvious.”
Prosecutors seem to be providing jurors a broad outline of Manafort’s work in Ukraine. That is important because, according to prosecutors, it was working there that helped make Manafort rich, and it was that money on which Manafort failed to pay taxes.
Prosecutors said on Tuesday they would demonstrate Manafort’s wealth was propped up by years of lies to all those around him. Manafort’s defense team said their client was a victim of Richard Gates, his longtime business partner who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI and is expected to be prosecutors’ star witness against Gates.
Testimony should get underway at 9:30 a.m. An FBI agent is also expected to testify Wednesday.