Politics

Paul Manafort Convicted on Eight of 18 Federal Counts

Trump’s former campaign manager a key figure in Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, faced bank fraud and tax evasion charges. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, was found guilty on eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud, a jury in Virginia declared Tuesday.

Manafort faces up to 80 years in prison pending a sentencing hearing with Judge T.S. Ellis III.

Ellis did not set a date for that hearing. 

On its fourth day of deliberation, at 4:35 p.m., the jury found Manafort guilty on all five counts of filing false tax returns from 2010 to 2014; one count of failing to file a foreign bank account report in 2012; and two counts of bank loan fraud worth a total of $4.4 million.

The political consulting titan was the first subject of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team to stand trial. His conviction Tuesday could bolster the public perception of the special counsel investigation, which Trump has repeatedly criticized as a “rigged witch hunt” created to undermine his administration and strip away the legitimacy of his 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton.

As the court clerk read the eight guilty verdicts, Manafort and his wife, Kathleen, betrayed no emotion and maintained blank expressions. U.S. marshals prevented reporters from dashing out of the courtroom.

Jurors asked Ellis to keep their names under seal, a request he agreed to for as long as they wish.

The judge then took a moment to applaud both the prosecution and the defense for their efforts, saying their legal counsel exceeded that which he usually sees.

“I think the government and Mr. Manafort received very effective and zealous representation, on both sides,” Ellis said. “That isn’t a statement I can make as frequently as I’d like.”

Prosecutors will file a statement next Wednesday on whether they want to re-try Manafort on the 10 remaining counts on which the jury could not reach a unanimous conclusion.

Swift reaction

Hours after the verdict, the president bashed the special counsel’s team for prosecuting Manafort for charges unrelated to possible ties between Trump campaign and Russia, even though Mueller, like all special counsels, was given sweeping authority.

Trump called his former campaign chairman a “good man” and stressed Manafort’s work on past presidential campaigns, including those of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Bob Dole in 1996.

“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort,” Trump said before a Tuesday night rally in West Virginia. “It was not the original mission [of the special counsel investigation], believe me. … We continue the witch hunt.”

Democratic lawmakers, by contrast, used the verdict as a 12-person referendum to affirm the job the special counsel is doing.

“This verdict makes it absolutely clear that the Mueller probe is not a ‘witch hunt’ — it is a serious investigation that is rooting out corruption and Russian influence on our political system at the highest levels,” Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia said in a statement.

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff echoed that assertion. The conviction “shows again that the president’s campaign was populated by individuals with a history of unscrupulous and dishonest business dealings and concerning ties to overseas interests,” he said in a statement.

Schiff also predicted that the conviction would “dramatically increase the likelihood” that Manafort will “cooperate with the government.”

Over 10 days of evidence and witness testimony, prosecutors stitched together a narrative of Manafort as a luxury-obsessed political operative who would go to any lengths to maintain his lavish lifestyle — including hiding $30 million from the IRS in 31 offshore accounts and lying on bank loan applications when his income stream dried up.

The defense blamed any financial mischief on Manafort’s own ignorance of the law or on his longtime deputy, Rick Gates. Gates had signature authority over many of the foreign accounts tied to Manafort and frequently communicated with Manafort’s bookkeeper, tax preparers and bankers with whom he was negotiating loans.

But prosecutors also presented a flood of emails that showed Manafort was more than privy to at least some of his personal and business finances — enough to convince the jury to convict him on eight of the counts.

In emails with the Cypriot lawyer who executed transactions from his overseas accounts, Manafort referred to some of the entities as “my accounts.”

In one email, he directed Gates to make a payment from Leviathan Ltd., one of the accounts. Soon after, receipts showed, the payment was executed.

Manafort’s conviction is one of the steepest political downfalls in recent memory.

He served in senior campaign positions for five Republican presidents — Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Donald Trump. He raked in roughly $60 million over a 10-year period helping Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych rise from the political ash heap to become president there from 2010 to 2014.

Now, Manafort could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Each of the five charges for filing a false tax return carry a maximum three-year sentence. Convicts face up to five years for failing to file an FBAR.

The two bank loan fraud charges against Manafort carry the biggest max penalty: 30 years apiece.

And he hasn’t reached his legal finish line.

In just weeks, Manafort will stand trial in Washington, D.C., on a multitude of charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States, failing to register as a foreign agent, money laundering, witness tampering, and making false statements to the FBI.

Loan fraud

Manafort’s loan fraud convictions stem from a series of back-to-back loans he secured in 2016, first from Citizens Bank and then from the Banc of California.

Employees of the two banks outlined how Manafort fudged numbers on his financial statements and left out crucial information about his debts in order to secure the loans.

To secure a $3.4 million loan from Citizens Bank in March 2016, Manafort signed a loan application with multiple pieces of false information about two of his properties in New York. He did not disclose a $5.3 million mortgage on a Brooklyn property and claimed that a loft he owned in Manhattan was a primary residence, not a rental.

Within weeks of securing that $3.4 million loan from Citizens Bank, Manafort applied for another loan worth $1 million from the Banc of California on the Brooklyn property he already had a $5.3 million mortgage on.

Manafort indicated on that loan application that he did not have any outstanding loans on his balance sheet — even though he had just secured the $3.4 million loan from Citizens Bank weeks earlier.

Banc of California executive Gary Seferian told the jury during testimony that they ultimately issued Manafort a $1 million loan based on the reported income for his political consulting firm, DMP International. The prosecution introduced emails between Manafort and Gates that showed they inflated Manafort's income from roughly $400,000 to $4.4 million.

If Banc of California had known DMP International had brought in $400,000 instead of the reported $4.4 million would Manafort have gotten any loan at all?

“I don’t think so,” Seferian said.

Watch: Trump comment on the Manafort trial, Robert S. Mueller III and his decision to revoke security clearances.

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