- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted Tuesday on eight felony counts of bank and tax fraud, making him the first person to be convicted in a trial emerging from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Manafort becomes the sixth person convicted in Mr. Mueller’s investigation, though all the charges were unrelated to his brief time at the helm of the Trump campaign and some occurred years before the 2016 election.

In a verdict announced at the same hour as President Trump’s longtime fixer pleaded guilty to other financial charges, Manafort was convicted of filing a false tax return in each of the years from 2010 to 2014, failing to report a foreign bank account in 2012, and two counts of bank fraud.

Although the crimes were not related to the campaign, they quickly became political fodder. The top House Democrat said they proved “rampant corruption and criminality” around Mr. Trump, and her Senate counterpart warned Mr. Trump against using his pardon power.

Mr. Trump, while emphasizing that the charges were unrelated to him, said the verdicts made him “very sad.”

But the panel of six men and six women deciding Manafort’s fate in Alexandria, Virginia, deadlocked on 10 counts. U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III declared a mistrial on those charges.

SEE ALSO: Trump says Manafort verdict ‘doesn’t involve me,’ slams Russia probe

Manafort, 69, was facing more than 300 years in a federal prison. He could still be sentenced to as much as 80 years on the eight convictions.

Each of the five charges of filing a false income tax return carries a maximum sentence of three years in a federal prison. The two bank fraud counts, related to a $3.4 million loan from Citizens Bank and a $1 million loan from Banc of California, each is punishable by 30 years in prison. Failing to report a foreign bank account carries a maximum sentence of five years.

However, Judge Ellis has the discretion to sentence Manafort to less than the maximum for each charge.

A sentencing date has not been set.

As the clerk read the verdict, Manafort stood and looked at the jury but showed no emotion. His wife, Kathleen, also remained stoic, sitting in the courtroom looking ahead as the verdict was announced. Manafort nodded to his wife as he left the courtroom.

Upon exiting the courtroom, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing told reporters that his client was “disappointed” by the verdict.

“Mr. Manafort is disappointed at not getting acquittals all the way through or a complete hung jury on all counts,” Mr. Downing said. “However, he would like to thank Judge Ellis for granting him a fair trial, thank the jury for their very long and hard-fought deliberations. He is evaluating all of his options at this point.”

The verdict was returned after four days of deliberation, two weeks of testimony and 27 witnesses. It appeared that a verdict would be likely Tuesday after the jury sent a note in the morning indicating they were struggling to decide at least one count. Judge Ellis encouraged the jurors to keep deliberating, but he told attorneys away from the jury that he was willing to accept a partial verdict.

The 10 deadlocked charges were three instances of failing to file a foreign bank account in 2011, 2013 and 2014, two counts of bank fraud, and five counts of conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

More legal woes await Manafort.

He is facing a second trial in September in the District of Columbia on charges that he failed to register as a foreign agent, lying to federal investigators and tampered with witnesses in that case. In June, a federal judge in Washington ordered him held in a Virginia jail because of the witness-tampering accusations.

Manafort’s conviction is a win for Mr. Mueller, who also has secured guilty pleas from other high-profile individuals such as Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser for the president, and George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.

Although the jury couldn’t decide on 10 counts, Manafort can claim that the guilty verdicts in the other eight prove the legitimacy of his work to a public growing weary of the 14-month investigation.

It also gives ammunition to Mr. Trump’s opponents on the left, who will no doubt press Mr. Mueller to keep digging to see whether he can link the president — who was barely mentioned in the trial — to Russian interference.

Ahead of a Tuesday evening rally in West Virginia, Mr. Trump called his former campaign chairman “a good man” and continued to rage against the Mueller investigation as “a disgrace” and “a witch hunt.”

“Paul Manafort is a good man,” the president said. “He was with Ronald Reagan. He was with a lot of different people over the years. I feel very sad about that.

“It’s a witch hunt, and it’s disgrace,” Mr. Trump continued. “But it has nothing to do with what they started out. It was not the original mission, believe me. It was something very different. It had nothing to do with Russian collusion.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said the convictions of Manafort and guilty plea by Mr. Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, are “evidence of rampant corruption and criminality at the heart of Trump’s inner circle.”

Cohen pleaded guilty in New York on Tuesday to eight counts, including tax fraud, lying to investigators and campaign finance violations.

“These convictions are further proof that the Special Counsel’s team and prosecutors in New York are conducting thorough and professional investigations which must be permitted to continue free from interference,” Mrs. Pelosi said in a statement. “Congressional Republicans’ determination to cover up for the President and his criminal cronies betrays their oath of office and undermines their duty to the American people.”

During Manafort’s trial, prosecutors said he had stashed more than $60 million in 31 overseas accounts in a scheme to avoid paying taxes on money he made in Ukraine. Prosecutor Greg Andres described the accounts in Cyprus and other countries as a “huge dumpster of hidden money.”

Those accounts were used to make some remarkable purchases, prosecutors said. Manafort bought a $15,000 ostrich skin jacket, an $18,500 jacket made from a python and more than $330,000 in clothing from House of Bijan, a Beverly Hills men’s boutique known as the “world’s most expensive store.”

Prosecutors said Manafort’s income dried up in 2014 when the Ukrainian political party he worked for was removed from power. Then, they said, Manafort lied to three banks to obtain more than $20 million in loans to pay for his luxurious lifestyle.

“Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn’t,” Mr. Andres said during closing arguments.

Defense attorneys rested without calling any witnesses. Instead, they urged jurors to reject the testimony of Rick Gates, a former Manafort business associate who pleaded guilty in February to the same charges. Gates cut a deal with Mr. Mueller’s team to testify against his former mentor.

On the witness stand, Gates, who also briefly worked the Trump campaign, admitted to inflating his income on credit card and mortgage applications, to embezzling from Manafort and to an extramarital affair.

“To the very end, he lied to you,” Mr. Downing told jurors.

Even Mr. Andres sought to distance himself from Gates’ testimony, telling jurors they didn’t have to like him but should compare his testimony with the stories told by Manafort’s accounts and attorneys, who detailed a complex tax and bank fraud scheme.

“The star witness in this case is the documents,” Mr. Andres said.

Defense attorneys also took swipes at the special counsel’s office. Another Manafort attorney, Richard Westling, implied during his closing arguments that his client’s prosecution was a politically motivated effort to hurt Mr. Trump.

He said the banks never reported fraud “until the special counsel showed up and started asking questions.” He accused the Mueller team of selectively pulling Mr. Manafort’s financial records to “concoct a narrative.”

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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