- The Washington Times
Thursday, March 8, 2018

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded not guilty Thursday to tax evasion, bank fraud and other charges stemming from the special counsel’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The charges, lodged in federal district court in Virginia, are in addition to charges Mr. Manafort also faces in federal court in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Manafort entered the plea Thursday afternoon in Alexandria, Virginia, before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia. A jury trial is scheduled for July 10.

The 18-count indictment stems from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

It was Mr. Manafort’s second court appearance in two weeks. He also pleaded not guilty to related charges last week before a federal judge in Washington, D.C. A trial in that case is set for Sept. 17.

During the Thursday hearing, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said he intends to call as many as 25 witnesses and expects the trial to take as long as two weeks. He had requested a speedy trial date of May 17, saying the case wasn’t complicated.

Defense Attorney Kevin Downing challenged Mr. Weissmann’s assertion. He said the case had a lot of complex issues, including offshore accounts, offshore activity and tax filings spanning more than a decade. Mr. Downing asked for a November trial date, after Mr. Manafort’s Washington trial is completed.

Mr. Downing said looking at the case through “rose-colored glasses” made November the ideal time for a trial.

But Judge Ellis was not persuaded by his arguments, telling Mr. Downing that he “needs to go back to the optometrist.” He added that he would be open to a later trial date if Mr. Downing makes a persuasive argument for more time.

Prosecution and defense attorneys also sparred over the conditions of Mr. Manafort’s pretrial supervision. Mr. Weissmann sought to put Mr. Manafort on home confinement, require him to wear a GPS bracelet and post a $10 million bond, calling the defendant a flight risk. Those were the same pretrial conditions imposed by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the Washington trial.

Mr. Downing claimed his client was not a flight risk and said duplication of supervision was unnecessary. He added that $10 million was a substantial part of Mr. Manafort’s wealth and an additional bond would put his family at risk.

The judge agreed that Mr. Manafort was a flight risk, but opted only to impose home confinement and a GPS bracelet, restricting the defendant’s travel to meeting with attorneys, seeing a physician and attending religious services. That decision means Mr. Manafort is now required to wear two monitors, one for each case.

Judge Ellis also criticized prosecutors for not hiring local counsel familiar with the rules of the Eastern District of Virginia. Mr. Weissmann responded he didn’t believe local counsel would be necessary and that he had tried cases in jurisdictions where he didn’t have local counsel.

Calling the decision to try a case without local counsel, “a mistake,” the judge said “only a fool would try a case in jurisdiction he was unfamiliar with without local counsel.”

Mr. Manafort and his longtime business associate Rick Gates, who briefly worked as aide in the Trump campaign, were first indicted in October on charges of conspiracy and making false statements. They both pleaded not guilty.

The pair were indicted a second time on similar charges in February. Both again pleaded not guilty, but Gates changed his plea. He pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy against the United States and making false statements and is believed to cooperating with the special counsel’s office.

Prosecutors allege Mr. Manafort shielded from the IRS millions of dollars he earned as a lobbyist and consultant for the Ukrainian government. Those funds were used to live a “lavish” lifestyle in the U.S., prosecutors said.

Mr. Manafort has continued to maintain his innocence, even criticizing Gates for accepting the guilty plea.

“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence.” Mr. Manafort said in a statement released after Gates changed his plea. “For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me.”

Prosecutors allege the pair made millions lobbying for pro-Russia politicians in the Ukraine and shielded that income from the Department of Treasury and IRS through offshore bank accounts and holding companies. The two are accused of preparing false tax documents to hide the money while simultaneously living a “lavish lifestyle” in the United States.

Although the charges stem from the same activity, prosecutors have said there is enough difference in the charges to try Mr. Manafort in two separate jurisdictions.

The Washington charges include conspiracy to launder money, making false statements, violating federal lobbying disclosure laws and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. In Virginia, Mr. Manafort faces counts of tax evasion, failing to report foreign bank accounts and making false statements. He is also accused of bank fraud in Virginia related to a scheme to fraudulently secure loans by falsifying his income and using his real estate as collateral.

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

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