Why you should care
Because Paul Manafort’s trial is the first to arise from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What’s happening? Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort goes on trial on Tuesday on charges arising from the investigation being led by special counsel Robert Mueller into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It is the first of two scheduled trials for Manafort, who took over from Corey Lewandowski as Trump’s campaign head in June 2016.
What are the charges against him? Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty, faces charges of tax evasion and bank fraud, and the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars. Prosecutors have levied a 32-count indictment — with 436 pieces of evidence — against Manafort that largely deals with him hiding more than $30 million in income from tax authorities. The former lobbyist received millions of dollars during his support of pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and has has been in jail since June for trying to influence the testimony of witnesses in his case.
What’s this got to do with Trump-Russia? Mueller’s team has said it will not present evidence about any campaign collusion at Manafort’s first trial. But as part of detailing Manafort’s alleged financial crimes, prosecutors plan to lay out Manafort’s extensive dealing with Russia-linked Ukrainian oligarchs, his financial ties to them, and the personal debts he had incurred prior to joining the Trump campaign — all of which could lay the groundwork for potential collusion between Manafort and Russia during the campaign.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
He’s feeling the heat. Recent news that special counsel Robert Mueller plans to call 35 witnesses — among them Manafort’s ex-deputy Rick Gates and Tad Devine, a onetime Bernie Sanders consultant who worked with Manafort on Ukraine — to testify in the case doesn’t bode well for Trump’s former right-hand man. The fact that Manafort’s lawyers recently asked the court for a delay (but were granted one shorter than requested) also indicates they may be scrambling to mount their defense against a well-prepared prosecution. “I think it’s the desperation strategy,” one law professor said.
The Manafort behind the myth. Manafort was seen as a Washington insider when he joined Trump’s campaign as its chairman and chief strategist in 2016. He had started his political career advising Republican president Gerald Ford’s 1976 campaign before moving on as a hired political consultant for other leaders around the world, including dictators in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Philippines. But the lobbyist’s relationship with Trump dates back to well before the presidential campaign: Manafort’s firm was hired by the Trump Organization in the 1980s to lobby on gambling and real estate. In 2006, he even bought an apartment in Manhattan’s Trump Tower.
Fixer for hire. In the years before joining the Trump campaign, Manafort made his name as a foreign fixer rehabilitating Yanukovych, a disgraced Ukrainian presidential candidate who lost a 2004 election only to secure a victory six years later, thanks to Manafort’s efforts. The problem? Yanukovych and his cronies were deeply corrupt, making the massive payments the U.S. political operator received for his work — which also included sprucing up Yanukovych’s international image — instantly suspicious.
Filial concern. Alleged hacked text messages from Manafort’s daughters from 2012 to 2016 were posted to the dark web by a hacktivist collective last year. According to the messages, one daughter called her father’s relationship with Trump the “most dangerous friendship in America” between “power-hungry egomaniacs.” And at least one daughter seemed troubled by her father’s work in Ukraine. “You know he has killed people in Ukraine? Knowingly,” Andrea Manafort texted. “That money we have is blood money.”
WHAT TO READ
The Plot Against America, by Franklin Foer in The Atlantic.
“Only a small handful of Americans — oil executives, Cold War spymasters — could claim to have ever amassed such influence in a foreign regime.”
Inside the Jail Where Former Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort Is Being Held, by David Z. Morris in Fortune.
“The jail has been described online by apparent insiders as a ‘hell hole’ where ‘inmates are treated worse than livestock’ … [although] Manafort’s housing in a “VIP” unit might make his stay a bit more pleasant.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Who Is Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort?
“While Trump was dealing with the American people, it appeared that Manafort was dealing with Russian officials.”
Watch on NowThis on YouTube:
The Key to the Mueller Investigation Is Paul Manafort’s Life
“When he became Donald Trump’s campaign chairman in April of 2016 he was to outward appearances someone on top of the world. When he left in August 2016, he was a man shattered.”
Watch on Washington Post on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
The spoils of victory. The prosecution will offer proof at trial of the lavish lifestyle Manafort enjoyed thanks to his undeclared income, including nearly $1 million paid to an antique rug store, millions spent for property in New York and Virginia, $503,500 in fees for landscaping and $850,000 for men’s clothing. Prosecutors are planning to display photos of such extravagant purchases, including of the waterfall Manafort had at one home.