Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign chairman will this week risk spending the rest of his life in prison, rather than help Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion with Russia.
Paul Manafort is due to stand trial in Virginia from Wednesday on charges of bank fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy. Manafort, 69, faces prison sentences totalling up to 305 years if convicted on all counts. On Tuesday morning jury selection is scheduled to get underway. Then he is due to stand trial on separate charges in Washington.
Manafort denies all the charges. “I continue to maintain my innocence,” he said earlier this year in a now rare public statement.
The trial of the veteran conservative operator is the first major court challenge for the special counsel’s investigators who for 14 months have been looking into “links and/or coordination” between Russian government officials and Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Manafort came under scrutiny due to his work as an adviser to pro-Kremlin forces in Ukraine and with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire aligned with the Kremlin. Manafort allegedly owed serious debts to Deripaska and others and asked a colleague in one 2016 email how he might use his new position “to get whole”.
But the charges against Manafort do not explicitly relate to Russia or its attack on the US election. Mueller, who is empowered to pursue “any matters” arising from the Russia inquiry, is pursuing Manafort for alleged financial crimes beginning a decade before the 2016 vote.
He is charged with evading US taxes on more than $30m he received to work for Ukraine’s former pro-Kremlin president, Viktor Yanukovych, who in 2014 fled to Russia amid a popular uprising.
“The government does not intend to present at trial evidence or argument concerning collusion with the Russian government,” Mueller’s team said in a filing to court this month.
The prosecution has thus been widely viewed as an aggressive effort to squeeze Manafort into striking a deal to plead guilty to a lesser charge – and thus being able to see his grandchildren grow up – in return for assisting the Russia investigation.