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Paul Manafort has been found guilty on eight out of 18 criminal counts in the tax and bank fraud case against him brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The jury said they were not able to reach a verdict on the remaining 10 counts, and the judge declared those a mistrial — meaning prosecutors will be able to bring them to trial again.
The trial of President Trump’s former campaign chairman has been seen a major test for Mueller’s team, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The partial conviction still represents a significant victory for Mueller’s prosecutors, Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor, told VICE News.
“This kind of split verdict happens quite often, especially in complicated fraud cases,” Rocah said. “I still think that’s a win for the Mueller team. I don’t see this as some kind of stain on Mueller at all.”
The jury convicted Manafort on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and a single count of failing to disclose a foreign bank account.
Manafort, 69, had been charged with five counts of filing false tax returns between 2010 and 2014, four counts of failing to report foreign bank accounts, and a combined nine counts of bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. If found guilty on all counts, he would have faced a maximum of 305 years in prison.
Trump, not surprisingly, didn't like the verdict. Upon his arrival in West Virginia for a planned rally, he said he was "very sad" about the conviction and that it "has nothing to do with Russian collusion," calling it "a disgrace."
Though the financial charges against Manafort may have had little to do with the election, the verdict still carries major political implications. Before the trial began, the presiding judge, T.S. Ellis, publicly described the legal assault on Manafort as a pressure tactic aimed at convincing him to cooperate with Mueller’s investigators and spill everything he knows about Trump.
Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the decision should lend credence to the Mueller probe, despite Trump repeatedly calling it a "witch hunt."
“This verdict makes it absolutely clear that the Mueller probe is not a ‘witch hunt’ — it is a serious investigation that is rooting out corruption and Russian influence on our political system at the highest levels,” Warner said in a statement immediately following the jury’s announcement. “Any attempt by the president to pardon Mr. Manafort or interfere with the investigation into his campaign would be a gross abuse of power and require immediate action by Congress.”
Before the verdict came down, observers had predicted that a guilty verdict would strengthen Mueller’s hand — but that a total wipeout for his team’s first major courtroom effort would be a crippling blow, leaving it vulnerable to the president and his allies who’ve repeatedly called for Mueller to wrap up the investigation quickly.
“In one sense, this trial is separate from the rest of the work that Mueller is doing,” said Jens David Ohlin, Cornell Law vice dean and an expert in international criminal law. “On the other hand, this is the first case that they’ve taken to trial, so they need to establish that their efforts are yielding fruit.”
Manafort had refused to plead guilty and cooperate. But legal experts have told VICE News that even after the verdict, he can still potentially strike a deal with Mueller’s team in exchange for leniency, especially if he does have bombshell insider information about the Trump campaign colluding with Russia in the 2016 election.
So far, however, there are no signs he plans to do that, prompting speculation he may be holding out for a presidential pardon, or that he may have no such information to trade for his freedom.
PAUL MANAFORT’S CRIMES
Over two weeks in the red-brick courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, prosecutors hammered Manafort as a serial liar addicted to luxury. They accused him of hiding at least $15 million in foreign income from the U.S. government, then raising $20 million in bank loans via fraudulent applications to extend his lavish lifestyle.
In a sweeping 90-minute-plus closing argument, prosecutor Greg Andres described Manafort as a man who’d worked his political connections like money spigots, and told brazen lies to raise cash.
Manafort, they said, raked in more than $65 million over four years advising former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and secretly funneled much of that wealth through bank accounts on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, controlled by a web of 31 different offshore companies with odd-sounding names.
But despite earning the equivalent of over $40,000 a day for four straight years, Manafort somehow blew it all on luxury real estate, fancy suits, manicured hedges, silk rugs, pricey cars, and Yankees season tickets, prosecutors told the jury.
According to prosecutors, after losing the revenue stream he enjoyed while Yanukovych was in power, Manafort then switched to taking out multimillion-dollar loans from banks. But in doing so, they said, he misrepresented his financial standing to appear more credit-worthy.
Facing new financial pressures from his lack of income, Manafort offered up his services to Trump, sending a letter to the candidate pitching his political services free of charge in February 2016.
Even though he didn’t draw a paycheck from Trump, prosecutors said Manafort again found a way to make his political activities work for his wallet. He arranged to take out $16 million in loans from a small Chicago lender called the Federal Savings Bank, while pushing to get that bank’s majority owner and CEO, Stephen Calk, appointed as Trump’s secretary of the Army.
USA v. Paul J. Manafort Jr.
But the jury ultimately only found unanimous agreement that Manafort had committed some of the crimes alleged by the prosecution, and could not find agreement on slightly more than half of the 18 counts.
Manafort’s defense team argued their guy never intentionally broke any laws — which they told the jury were overly complex and confusing. They called Manafort a gifted consultant whose focus was politics, not bookkeeping.
Instead, the financial details of his operation had been the responsibility of his ex-right-hand man, Rick Gates, they said. And they pilloried Gates, an admitted thief and liar, as a sketchy underling who had his “hand in the cookie jar,” and lied to cover for his own crimes.
Manafort’s team didn’t call any witnesses to testify in his defense — gambling that the prosecution never proved its case against him beyond a reasonable doubt.
That wager proved at least half-wrong. The other half may be decided if Mueller’s team decides to try the rest of the charges again, which Cornell’s Ohlin said he expects them to do.
Observers have said Manafort may now be placing an even bigger wager — betting his freedom on a presidential pardon from Trump.
But even if he gets one, he might still have to wait for it longer than he’d like. Manafort has been in jail since mid-June, when the judge in his D.C. case revoked his bail pending his trials.
Following this verdict, he may well remain there until Trump decides the moment is right to spring him. But for Trump, that moment might not come until the final days of his first term, in January 2021 — or his second, if he has one, in 2025.
By that time, Manafort would be well into his 70s.
“A post-conviction pardon is politically problematic for Trump,” Paul Rosenzweig, a senior counsel for the Ken Starr investigation into former President Bill Clinton and founder of the security consultancy Red Branch Consulting, told VICE News. “I suspect it may not happen at all, but if it does, it will be timed to minimize the political effect.”
Manafort faces a second trial in Washington, D.C., due to start in September, on charges of failure to properly disclose his status as an agent of a foreign government to American authorities while working as an adviser to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, along with other alleged crimes, including money laundering and obstruction of justice.
Cover: Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, arrives at federal court in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, June 15, 2018. Manafort was ordered locked up ahead of his two trials for bank fraud and money laundering. (Photo: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)