Mueller team lectured by judge in Manafort case

Paul Manafort has been charged with money laundering and bank fraud among other violations.					Alexandria Sheriff's Office via Getty Images

Paul Manafort has been charged with money laundering and bank fraud among other violations. Alexandria Sheriff's Office via Getty Images

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III says oligarch has a "pejorative" meaning and using it isn't relevant to the bank fraud and tax evasion charges against Manafort.

"In each of these cases, the evidence will show that Paul Manafort placed himself and his money above the law", said prosecutor Uzo Asonye.

Paul Manafort orchestrated a multimillion-dollar conspiracy to evade USA tax and banking laws, leaving behind a trail of lies as he lived a lavish lifestyle, prosecutors said Tuesday as they laid out their case against the former Trump campaign chairman. He has pleaded not guilty.

As first days go, it was a busy one in the federal trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Manafort's defense team countered by pointing a finger at the prosecution's star witness - and Manafort's former deputy - Richard Gates.

Lawyers for Manafort countered by painting Manafort as a victim of his employees, including former colleague Rick Gates, who is cooperating with Mueller's probe. That was an apparent reference to one of the expensive purchases Mr. Manafort allegedly made which prosecutors said they planned to describe at trial.

President Trump tweeted about Manafort Wednesday morning as the trial was beginning its second day.

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Manafort is charged with bank fraud, conspiracy, preparing false tax returns and failing to disclose foreign income.

Mueller was appointed by the U.S. Justice Department's No. 2 official a year ago to take over an FBI investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election and whether there was unlawful coordination between Trump's campaign and Moscow.

Gates and Manafort worked closely together for years, including in Ukraine, and they were indicted at the same time by Mueller.

Yet the trial also contains pitfalls for Trump.

Despite that, Manafort's case is widely viewed as a test to the legitimacy of Mueller's ongoing probe, which Trump has dismissed as a "witch hunt".

"Paul Manafort travels in circles that most people will never know and he's gotten handsomely rewarded for it", Zehnle said.

"Perhaps he believes that he's done nothing wrong, and because he's done nothing wrong, he's unwilling to plead guilty to any crime whatsoever - even if it's a lesser crime", said Jimmy Gurule, a Notre Dame law professor and former federal prosecutor.

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"This is the way that they required it to be done", Zehnle said, arguing why oligarchs paid Manafort through secret foreign accounts.

By midday, a jury of six women and six men, with four alternates, was in place.

Given the strength of the evidence, however, some legal experts have suggested Manafort may be banking on an eventual pardon from Trump, who has called his former campaign chairman a "nice guy" who has been treated unfairly.

The sharp words marked a dramatic opening to the trial, in keeping with the notoriously fast-moving Eastern District Court of Virginia, which lawyers often refer to as home to the "rocket docket".

This is the first of two trials for Manafort.

Asonye, who described Manafort's "lavish lifestyle" in detail, alleged that Manafort held more than 30 bank accounts that "served no business objective other than to receive and hide income". Three Russian companies have also been charged.

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