With Jury Picked, Manafort Trial Enters Its 2nd Day

Aug 1, 2018
Originally published on August 1, 2018 10:46 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Today is day two in the trial of President Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Yesterday, the jury was chosen, and the court has already heard from one witness in the case. Manafort is facing charges of bank and tax fraud. These are financial crimes. And his connections to Ukraine are looming over the trial. NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is covering the trial. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right. So the jury has been picked. What can you tell us about them?

JOHNSON: Yeah, sure. There are six men and six women with four alternate jurors. This is largely a white but not an all-white jury. They got notebooks yesterday. Some of them immediately began jotting down notes as soon as the lawyers in this case opened their mouths. Now, the jurors may have to endure this trial for three weeks, but the judge, T.S. Ellis, pointed out they they'd at least get a free lunch every day the jury is sitting.

KING: (Laughter) And at least the judge has a sense of humor.

JOHNSON: Yeah.

KING: OK. Both sides delivered their opening statements yesterday. And opening statements, of course, are about establishing a kind of narrative of what happened. What is the government's narrative about what Mr. Manafort did?

JOHNSON: One of the lead prosecutors, Uzo Asonye, says these 18 tax and bank fraud charges boil down to one thing - that Paul Manafort, the former master lobbyist, lied, that he believed the law did not apply to him. Authorities argue that Manafort earned something like $60 million through some lucrative political consulting and lobbying in Ukraine, but he concealed a lot of that money from the IRS. He failed to file reports on his foreign bank accounts.

And prosecutors say he spent that money lavishly on real estate, antique carpets, famously on a $15,000 custom jacket made from an ostrich. We did not yet get a photo of the ostrich, but we did get to hear a lot about how Manafort lied to his bookkeepers and accountants, with more to come.

KING: And what is the narrative from Team Manafort? What are they saying happened?

JOHNSON: They're basically saying that any record keeping or tax filing lapses by Paul Manafort were an innocent mistake, not an intentional fraud that rises to the level of a crime that could send this guy to prison for the rest of his life. Defense lawyer Thomas Zehnle says this case is about trust, and Manafort put his trust in the wrong guy, his former right-hand man, Rick Gates.

Paul Manafort says he was traveling around the world doing all this business, and he left the details to Gates. Manafort's lawyer says Gates embezzled money from the business. And then when they got in trouble, deep trouble, Gates pleaded guilty and agreed to flip on Paul Manafort. Now, Rick Gates is going to be a key witness in this case. Manafort wants to put him, Rick Gates, on trial.

KING: And we haven't heard from Rick Gates yet, but the jury did hear yesterday from the first witness, who is a political consultant. Who is this man, and what was he testifying to?

JOHNSON: Yeah, a Democratic political consultant, a guy named Tad Devine who does a lot of TV and radio ads for candidates here in the U.S. He worked for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Al Gore, other prominent Democrats like John Kerry. In this case, Devine was testifying about work he had done with Paul Manafort in Ukraine for political candidates there. And he testified that Manafort did sweat the details, at least when it came to Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. On cross-examination, Devine did help score a point for the defense. He said that Manafort was professional, hardworking and earned all the money earned - he reaped from his work in Ukraine. In other words, he did a good job.

KING: Yeah, that's really interesting. All right. So day one was very busy. What happens on day two? What's going on today?

JOHNSON: What we know so far is the second witness is going to be another political consultant who worked with Paul Manafort in Ukraine, a guy named Daniel Rabin, likely to testify again about how involved Manafort was in that work and those details. Then we're going to get to hear from one of the FBI agents in this case. And because it's been moving so rapidly, I expect to hear from a couple - at least a couple more witnesses today.

KING: This is really interesting - moving quickly and just a big tangle of people, political consultants, former political consultants telling their stories. Let me ask you, what is the atmosphere like in the courtroom?

JOHNSON: So inside the courtroom, Paul Manafort, who was known for being a master lobbyist and being a great vote counter for Donald Trump during the presidential campaign and during the Republican National Convention, was playing a very active role in helping to pick that jury. His lawyers even consulted with Paul Manafort before deciding not to question the government's first witness any further. Manafort really sat up straight and was paying close attention. And the special counsel, Robert Mueller - this is his investigation, remember. No sign of Robert Mueller at the courthouse yesterday, but two of his deputies, James Quarles and Aaron Zebley, sat very quietly in the back. I noticed them. They sat there through opening statements and the first witness. So Robert Mueller is around, he's listening through his deputies, at least.

KING: (Laughter). All right. And just real quick - yesterday, we heard it was kind of a circus outside the courtroom. Is it too early today for that?

JOHNSON: You know, there are people already outside in this plaza in front of the courthouse.

KING: Wow.

JOHNSON: Yesterday, there were six or seven people, including a woman banging a drum, people with signs that said, lock him up. It was a modest presence. There's a lot of TV cameras and a lot of reporters in line already this morning.

KING: NPR's justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you so much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.