Mueller vs Manafort in gripping first trial

In the dock: Mueller was not actually present at the first day of Manafort’s trial.

What does the first trial resulting from the Russia probe mean? Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, stands accused of fraud. But will the investigation affect the president?

It is over 13 months since Robert Mueller took over the special counsel investigation into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and any links between Vladimir Putin’s government and the Trump campaign.

And finally, on Tuesday, the first trial directly resulting from the investigation began.

Yet inside the packed courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington DC, there was no mention of President Donald Trump or Mueller. The word “Russia” was not even uttered.

The man on trial is Paul Manafort, Trump’s 69-year-old former campaign chairman.

Manafort had worked for the Republican Party since 1976. He established deep connections in Washington and around the world, serving as a political lobbyist and consultant for global leaders, including dictators Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines.

In a 26-minute opening statement, prosecutor Uzo Asonye accused Manafort of being a “shrewd” liar who orchestrated a global scheme to avoid paying taxes on millions of dollars.

According to Asonye, Manafort lived an “extravagant lifestyle” paid for by a “secret income” that he earned from his lobbying in Ukraine for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian strongman who was ousted in 2014.

Jurors heard how he spent $21,000 on a watch and $15,000 on a jacket made from an ostrich. “A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him,” Asonye said.

Manafort’s defence lawyer, Thomas Zehnle, positioned his client as a great American success story, “a second-generation immigrant, first in his family to go to college.” “There are two sides to every story,” he added.

In this way, the trial seems like many others. Except that it is, as The Washington Post put it, “a set piece in a national political confrontation in which the remaining acts are unwritten.”

It is a major embarrassment for the Trump presidency for such an important figure to be brought down like this.

But there is still no direct trail from the 45th president to the Kremlin. Does Manafort’s trial really matter?

Smoking gun?

At the very least, it shows that Trump surrounded himself with dodgy people, say some. Manafort’s time in charge of the Trump campaign came when Republican policy was changing in Russia’s favour. He was close to some of Putin’s greatest allies. It all seems like a precursor to something bigger.

Nonsense! reply others. Mueller has run this investigation for over a year, and what have we got? One dodgy adviser accused of fraud dating back to before anyone thought Trump could become president. Surely this is all very disappointing for people who want to see Trump impeached for colluding with Russia?

You Decide

  1. Does this trial matter?
  2. Do you think Donald Trump deliberately colluded with Russia during his election campaign?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are Trump’s adviser. How should the president respond to this trial? Compose a public statement for him to read.
  2. Research the scandal and design a timeline of the investigation. You can start from as far back as you wish.

Some People Say...

“Manafort is a mirror image of Trump. He is a man seduced by the oligarch wealth of the former Soviet Union.”

Max Bergmann

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The first trial directly resulting from the special counsel investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election has begun, with Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, standing accused of multiple accounts of fraud. We know that he could face up to 30 years in jail — effectively life for someone his age.
What do we not know?
Whether Manafort’s ties to dictators abroad link directly with supposed collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin’s government. We also simply do not know whether the charges against Manafort are accurate, although there is strong evidence to suggest that they are.

Word Watch

Robert Mueller
A former FBI director, Mueller took over the bureau just a week before the 9/11 attacks. He is a Republican.
Mobutu Sese Seko
While president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he accumulated vast personal wealth, formed an authoritarian regime, and attempted to purge the country of all colonial cultural influence. He was also an anti-communist. The country was known as Zaire during his time in office.
Ferdinand Marcos
The president of the Philippines from 1965 until 1986, Marcos was also notorious for suppressing democracy and shoring up corruption. However, the Philippines made major economic progress during his time in office.
Ousted in 2014
Yanukovych was ousted in a pro-EU coup in 2014, which led to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the ongoing war in the east of Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army.
Second-generation immigrant
Manafort is of Italian descent.

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