Donald Trump: Paul Manafort Being Treated Worse Than Al Capone

AFP Contributor  AFP

Testimony in the second day of Manafort's trial, the first stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 14-month investigation of Russia's role in the 2016 US election, was overshadowed by Trump's call for an end to the probe.

The president, a couple of hours after attempting to obstruct justice by ordering via Twitter that Attorney General Jeff Sessions shut down the Mueller probe, tweeted out his total horror over the fact that Manafort is in prison.

Prosecutors charged Manafort and his then-associate Rick Gates with two counts of bank fraud and two counts of bank fraud conspiracy for allegedly providing misleading information to secure two loans worth $16 million. Zehnle said Manafort, earning millions as a political consultant helping officials in other parts of the world, relied on Gates and others - including a professional accounting firm - to keep watch over the money.

This on Day 2 of Manafort's trial in Alexandria, Virginia, on charges of tax and bank fraud, not related to Robert Mueller's Russian Federation election tamper investigation, though that distinction seems lost on Trump.

Manafort, 69, is charged with tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to report foreign bank accounts.

He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.

A star government witness will be Richard Gates, a former deputy Trump campaign chairman and former Manafort business associate. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye told Ellis in court Wednesday that Gates may not testify.

"That's not the American way", the judge said.

Judge T.S. Ellis was not a fan of the prosecution's focus on Manafort's lavish lifestyle, and would often cut off questioning if it delved too into the details of the luxury items Manafort was purchasing, allegedly with income he failed to disclose on federal forms and money he wired from foreign bank counts that he didn't report to the USA government.

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The younger Katzman, who managed his father's Alan Couture shop on West 57th Street in Manhattan, told jurors that Manafort spent more than $900,000 there between 2010 and 2014.

Prosecutors said on Wednesday they planned to wrap up with testimony from two more vendors on Thursday before calling people who worked as bookkeepers and accountants for Manafort.

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

In the pre-trial stage, Ellis had expressed skepticism of the prosecutors' tactics, accusing the team, which is led by special counsel Robert Mueller, of going after Manafort to get to Trump.

A prosecutor showed Mikuska and the jury a series of invoices, including for home improvement work, that were seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation during the August 2017 raid. He was Manafort's top client until he was removed from power and fled to Russian Federation in 2014.

"Manafort is not on trial for leading a lavish lifestyle", he said.

Ellis chastised both sides for using the term "oligarch", saying the word has negative connotations and could give jurors the impression that Manafort was "consorting and being paid by people who are criminals". The judge repeatedly urged prosecutors to hasten their questioning of witnesses and questioned the relevancy of certain evidence while refusing to admit documents such as a home renovation invoice. Mikuska said agents arrived at around 6 a.m. and knocked three times before entering the condominium with a key. But that trust was misplaced, Zehnle said in an opening statement that made clear that undermining the credibility of Gates - a former Trump campaign aide who spent years working for Manafort in Ukraine - is central to the defense strategy.

Trump has denied that his campaign colluded with Russian Federation, and on Tuesday tried to make the case publicly that collusion would not be a crime anyway.

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