This is so much bigger than Paul Manafort
The former federal prosecutor Dan Goldman called it a “pretty standard opening statement,” one that “distill[ed] complicated transactions to a simple concept of lying and thinking the law that everyone can identify with doesn’t apply to him.”
Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates were indicted in October 2017 on charges including conspiracy to launder money and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts. Gates struck a deal with Mueller earlier this year and is now cooperating with investigators; he is expected to testify against Manafort during the Virginia trial. But Manafort—who is the only American charged by Mueller who’s chosen to go to trial rather than cooperate—could face the rest of his life in prison if convicted. Manafort will also stand trial in Washington, D.C., in September on charges related to his work for Ukraine. (Manafort was forced to step down from his post on the Trump campaign in August 2016 after reports surfaced that he was given millions in off-the-books payments by Ukraine’s pro-Russian Party of Regions.)
Asonye zeroed in on Manafort’s millions, saying the evidence would show that he did not do “what Americans do every year—pay the taxes he owed.” At the same time, the prosecutor played up Manafort’s personal spending, claiming that he used shell companies that were regularly replenished by Ukrainian oligarchs for his own use.
That, too, is a touchstone argument for jurors, Mariotti suggested. The government’s homing in on Manafort’s “outlandish spending is Prosecution 101,” he said. “Jurors hate defendants who live an opulent lifestyle due to fraud.”
If court documents filed by the government in recent weeks are any indication, that opulence will be on full display. Jurors will be shown Manafort’s multi-million-dollar homes, expensive cars, Major League Baseball tickets, and antique carpets, which the government will argue were the fruit of his “willful” disregard for the law. “All of this was willful,” Asonye said on Tuesday. “Paul Manafort knew about the law.”
According to Asonye, Manafort hid his money from his accountants and his bookkeeper, and failed to report $15 million in income to the IRS between 2010 and 2014. That year, Asonye said, Manafort’s “cash spigot” and “golden goose”—the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, whom Manafort advised for more than a decade—was ousted and fled to Russia. Manafort’s funds dried up, and that’s when he began creating cash “literally out of thin air,” Asonye said.
Paul Manafort’s fate is sealed
He predicted that the defense would try to undermine Gates, but reminded jurors that Gates was Manafort’s deputy and confidant—someone Manafort explicitly decided to associate with. The message jurors should send to Manafort at the end of the trial, Asonye concluded, is that “he is not above the law, that the rules apply to him.”