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Manafort Is Convicted. Now He Must Prepare For An Even Bigger Trial.

Paul Manafort leaves U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on February 28.
Paul Manafort leaves U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on February 28.

For 12 days Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, sat at a table on the sixth-floor federal courtroom flanked by his defense lawyers and listened as prosecutors put his finances and many aspects of his private life on full display for a 12-member jury and the larger public.

In two weeks he will have to endure the entire experience all over again.

That federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, found Manafort guilty on August 21 of eight counts of bank fraud, tax evasion, and other charges that U.S. prosecutors brought in the first trial to arise from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's sprawling criminal investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and whether anyone on the Trump campaign colluded in an attempt to sway the vote.

The prosecution of Manafort did not focus directly on Russia, though the bank and tax fraud that he committed was to hide millions of dollars earned as a consultant for pro-Russian lawmakers in Ukraine between 2010 and 2014.

Manafort goes back on trial next month on a new set of charges, also brought by Mueller.

That trial, to be held in a nearby U.S. federal court in Washington, D.C., could end up being even more consequential than the Virginia case, legal experts and observers say, and not just in terms of how much time he could spend in prison.

The new trial -- with charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States, witness tampering, and failure to register as a foreign agent -- is expected to shine a brighter light on how Manafort sought to influence U.S. lawmakers and policymakers, and potentially Russia's involvement in that effort.

"It is unusual to have the back-to-back trials like this," says Samuel Buell, who worked as a federal prosecutor in New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C., and now teaches law at Duke University.

"I think that most people are thinking that that D.C. case will tell a larger story about Manafort's work, and how much additional we learn from the D.C. trial about Manafort and his business in Europe remains to be seen, but it's likely to be more than in the Virginia case," he said.

"I do think that those allegations [in the D.C. trial] are more consequential and more closely connected to the overall investigation into the Trump connections with Russia," says Barbara McQuade, who served as U.S. attorney for eastern Michigan between 2010 and 2017.

As in the Virginia trial, the next set of charges stem from before Manafort joined Trump's presidential election in March 2016. He later became Trump's campaign chairman but was fired in August amid revelations over the extent of his work in Ukraine. That work focused mostly on Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president elected in 2010 who was then ousted in February 2014 amid mass street protests.

Paper Trail

As in Virginia, prosecutors from Mueller's team in the D.C. trial are expected to rely heavily on a paper trail, McQuade said, which includes reams of documents, e-mails, and bank and tax records to build the case against Manafort.

In Virginia, prosecutors produced nearly 400 pieces of evidence -- e-mails, photographs, bank records, spreadsheets -- and called 27 witnesses to testify. The number of documents could be even greater in next month's trial.

Manafort defense lawyer Kevin Downing said in a court filing on August 16 that his legal team had received more than 1,000 proposed exhibits -- for example, documents and photographs -- from prosecutors, exhibits that were not introduced in the Virginia trial.

That's likely to shed light on some of the still-not-fully-explored aspects of his lobbying, including his longtime Ukrainian point man, Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian dual citizen who is believed to have ties to Russian intelligence as well as Kremlin oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Kilimnik, who is believed to be in Russia, was himself indicted by Mueller earlier this year, accused, along with Manafort, of trying to tamper with witnesses in the Manafort case. That resulted in U.S. District Court Judge Amy Jackson ordering Manafort jailed.

Manafort's legal team called no defense witnesses in Virginia, focusing the bulk of their strategy on undermining the star prosecution witness: Rick Gates, who was Manafort's chief deputy. Gates pleaded guilty to charges similar to those against Manafort earlier this year and agreed to testify for the prosecution.

Prosecutors had originally sought to have just one trial for Manafort, in Washington. But his defense lawyers refused to allow the case in Virginia -- where Manafort's primary residence is and where many of the financial fraud allegations stem from -- to be consolidated.

Buell says it's likely prosecutors will have more flexibility to introduce evidence and question witnesses in the D.C. trial than they did in Virginia, due to the different courtroom practices of Washington Judge Jackson and those of T. S. Ellis, the judge in Virginia.

"You can bet your bottom dollar that it's going to be less restrictive than it was with the judge in Virginia," he says.

"You should keep expectations moderate. Bombshells are unlikely," Buell adds. But "anytime you get a witness on the stand're going to get more testimony -- and that could reveal more about what the Mueller investigation has been focused on."

Manafort's conviction also gives his defense lawyers a powerful tool to delay the D.C. trial, Buell says. The newspaper headlines and television reports might make it hard to form an impartial jury in Washington, meaning the judge might be open to delaying the trial or moving it to a new location.

Looming Elections

For Democrats and Trump's most vehement critics, the hope has long been that Mueller uncovers evidence indicating that Trump and his associates colluded with Russian agents to help influence voters in the 2016 presidential election that Trump won.

Just as in Virginia, that isn't likely to happen in the next trial, predicts Ken White, a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer who served as assistant U.S. attorney in California from 1995 to 2001. "It's still some fairly dry, white-collar stuff," he says. "Probably the sexiest part of it is the obstruction-of-justice charges they tacked on."

The timing of the trial scheduled for Washington is also noteworthy given that, like in Virginia, it is expected to stretch over several weeks, meaning a verdict could come close to the November 6 midterm elections, when control of Congress is at stake.

In a tweet on August 20, Trump repeated his earlier assertions that Mueller was trying to time the trial to affect the opinions of U.S. voters.

Like many veteran prosecutors and legal experts, Buell rejecteds that assertion, but notes that such an argument could be used by Manafort's defense lawyers to sway the jury.

"What are the prosecutor and the judge supposed to do? They're supposed to do their jobs," he says. "Of course we should expect more antics like this as the election approaches.... Not much you can do about that."

White notes that in the context of the upcoming election, Trump might consider pardoning Manafort.

Under the U.S. Constitution, presidents have sweeping authority to issue pardons, not only for those who have been convicted, but also for those who have yet to be charged. If Trump were to pardon Manafort for his conviction in the Virginia trial or in advance of the D.C. trial, it would look bad politically to many voters, though possibly not to his loyalist supporters.

"That's going to go into everyone's political calculus and you have to wonder whether that means Trump might think of pardoning him after this trial...and taking the political hit from that," White says.

Regardless of whether Trump takes such a step, the Manafort trials and the entire Mueller investigation has created what some term an unparalleled political storm.

"The historic parallels have run out of gas. We're beyond the point when we can realize we're in uncharted waters politically," Buell says. "Those of us who grew up in the 20th century and developed a conception of how U.S. politics are supposed to be...we've been slow to appreciate just how far off the map we are."

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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