The Manafort trial: Opening statements begin

The comments were the first volley in the bank fraud and tax evasion trial. Manafort faces related charges in Washington, D.C., federal court, where his trial will begin in September.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all 18 counts.

Paul Manafort speaks to the press during a news conference at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Mr Manafort quit Mr Trump's team in August 2016.

The special counsel does not allege Manafort played a role in Russian interference in the 2016 election.

If the judge rules in their favor, prosecutors could present evidence that delves deeper into Manafort's Russian connections. Judge T.S. Ellis III of the United States District Court, presiding over the Virginia case, wrote in June that "it is plausible, indeed ultimately persuasive here, to argue that the investigation and prosecution has some relevance to the election which occurred months if not years after the alleged misconduct".

The trial, starting with selection of a 12-member jury, coincides with growing speculation that Mr Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen may co-operate with federal investigators against the president.

Responding to allegations that Manafort took the campaign job with Trump in 2016 to pay off debts he owed to a Russian oligarch, the defense fund website asserts that he was "motivated exclusively by his appreciation and ardor for our country".

As president, Trump has downplayed Manafort's role in the campaign. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Tuesday morning that there has been no discussion of a potential pardon by President Trump of Manafort.

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That task comes as the president and his lawyer-spokesperson, Rudy Giuliani, have intensified their attempts to undermine the Mueller investigation in the court of public opinion and as the USA president continues to waffle on whether he'll sit for a private interview with prosecutors.

Prosecutors made no reference to Trump in their opening statement nor discussed in any way Manafort's leadership of the Trump campaign, or the ongoing investigation into potential collusion between Russian Federation and the president's associates. But that isn't a focus of this trial. If Manafort is convicted, it could hurt Trump's claims.

Mr Manafort, who has been jailed for almost two months, wore a black suit and appeared fully engaged in his defence, whispering with his lawyers during jury selection and scribbling notes as the prosecution began its opening statement.

Yesterday, prosecutors said in court filings that they intend to prove that Mr Manafort earned more than $60m (€51m) lobbying for the former pro-Russia Ukrainian government and failed to report "a significant percentage" of that.

"On the basis of the record presented thus far, there is no reason to believe that fair and impartial jurors can not be found in the Eastern District of Virginia", the judge concluded.

Asonye said Manafort set up bank accounts in overseas countries and funnelled millions of dollars into them in order to bankroll an extravagant lifestyle.

Prosecutors also charged another one of his associates, Konstantin Kilimnik, with working with Manafort to try to tamper with the potential witnesses.

The trial is expected to drag on for at least three weeks, with jury selection for the case beginning on Tuesday.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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