Manafort Trial Begins In Federal Court In Virginia

Jul 31, 2018
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NOEL KING, HOST:

The trial of President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, started today. This is the first trial to come out of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which began as a probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. This trial is not about Russia, though. It's about tax and bank fraud. Ryan Lucas is covering the trial. It's taking place at a federal court in Virginia. And he's on the line now. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

KING: All right, so there is no shortage of interest in this trial. What does it look like out there?

LUCAS: Well, the U.S. courthouse here in Alexandria is on this red-brick square. There was a long line that stretched from the front door to the courthouse this morning around the corner. There were cameras set up all around the square with lights on, tents up. Residents actually - when I just popped out from the courthouse this morning, there were people taking dogs and snapping photographs...

KING: (Laughter).

LUCAS: ...Of kind of the scene in front of the square. So that's a bit of what the scene looks like. There were - the courtroom itself has been packed this morning, as well as an overflow room. So there is, indeed, a lot of interest here in Alexandria as well, obviously.

KING: All right. Remind us about the charges because, as we said, this is not about Russia, surprisingly enough, maybe. This is about some work that Paul Manafort did in Ukraine, right?

LUCAS: That's right. Manafort faces 18 counts, and all this is about bank fraud and tax fraud stemming from lobbying work that he did working for a pro-Russian political group and eventually leader of Ukraine - dates from about 2006 to around 2015. And what prosecutors say is that Manafort made around $60 million from his work in Ukraine and didn't report of a lot of it to U.S. tax authorities. They say that with this money, he bought antique rugs. He bought real estate. He bought cars and what prosecutors have described as this very lavish lifestyle. When that income from Ukraine started to dry up, he allegedly took out loans through fraudulent bank applications. So yes, it's not about Russia or the campaign exactly, but it does fall within special counsel Robert Mueller's mandate.

And we have to remember that Paul Manafort was campaign chairman through the kind of thick of the presidential race in the summer of 2016. He has knowledge of key events during that time. And so what he might know would certainly be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller. And Manafort is under a lot of pressure, both legal and financial. And there's the long-standing question of whether Manafort might eventually decide to cooperate with prosecutors. He has not. He says he's innocent. And he's fighting these charges.

KING: All right, so he has a long road ahead. Today was day one. It was jury selection. What did that look like?

LUCAS: That's right. Jury selection got underway. Jurors filed in a little after 10 a.m. local time here. There were around 60 people in all, evenly divided more or less between men and women. What's going to happen now is the defense and prosecution will whittle down that pool to 12 jurors and four alternates. They're in the process of doing that now.

KING: And once the jurors are selected - just real quick - then the trial kicks off?

LUCAS: Well, we'll get that down to 12 and four alternates, and then opening arguments. Hopefully, that will happen today. If not, then that may - we may have to wait until tomorrow for that.

KING: Ryan Lucas is covering the trial in eastern Virginia for NPR. Ryan, thank you so much.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.