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Judge has to interrupt Mueller prosecutor’s opening statement: ‘It isn’t a crime to have a lot of money …’

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The bank fraud and tax evasion trial for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort promises to be a real donnybrook, given the opening statements for the two sides.

(Photo credit MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

An early sign of this could be seen in a tweet from CBS News reporter Paula Reid.

“JUST IN: No deal. Manafort attorney Kevin Downing tells me ‘No chance!’ his client will cooperate with Special Counsel in order to avoid trial today,” Reid tweeted.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors took Manafort apart in their opening statement, accusing him of being a “shrewd” liar who made millions of dollars from working in the Ukraine and then schemed to avoid paying taxes, CNN reported.

More from the cable news network:

Manafort lived an “extravagant lifestyle” fueled by “secret income” that he earned from his lobbying in Ukraine, said Uzo Asonye, a prosecutor working on the case with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Manafort became wealthy from the “cash spigot” that came from working for his “golden goose in Ukraine,” former President Viktor Yanukovych, Asonye said.

The opening statement indicated that prosecutors plan to put Manafort’s wealth on trial as a key element of their case, arguing he funded his lavish spending habits by breaking the law.

“All of these charges boil down to one simple issue: that Paul Manafort lied,” Asonye said. “Manafort placed himself and his money over the law.”

 

The approach highlighting Manafort’s wealth drew an interruption from Judge T.S. Ellis, according to Associated Press reporter Erick Tucker.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“Interesting moment occurred in government opening statement as prosecutor rattled off Manafort’s life of luxury. Judge interrupted: ‘It isn’t a crime to have a lot of money and be profligate in your spending,’” he tweeted.

As for Manafort’s legal team, attorney Thomas Zehnle pointed a finger at his clients’ longtime deputy Rick Gates, who copped a guilty plea to a conspiracy charge and to lying to federal investigators in February, according to CNN.

“He had his hand in the cookie jar,” Zehnle said of Gates.

Zehnle argued in his opening statement that Manafort never intended to deceive the IRS or anyone else, and noted how prosecutors barely mentioned Gates, who he said was the government’s “star witness,” even though Gates pleaded guilty to lying to the government.

More from CNN:

Manafort’s “trust in Rick Gates was misplaced,” Zehnle said. Gates changed his story over time — to the point of saying anything to the government, Zehnle argued. And Gates found himself in legal trouble “because he embezzled millions of dollars from his longtime employer,” Zehnle said, meaning Manafort.

[…]

Zehnle also shifted much of the blame to the Ukrainian oligarchs Manafort worked for and the business associates he worked with.

“This is the way that they required it to be done,” Zehnle said, arguing why oligarchs had paid Manafort through secret foreign accounts. Prosecutors said Tuesday that Manafort had hid 30 foreign bank accounts from US authorities.

 

Manafort faces 18 charges, including accusations of filing false tax returns, failing to report foreign bank accounts and defrauding several banks, CNN reported.

And while he has denied the charges, Manafort faces a maximum sentence of 305 years in prison, if convicted on all charges.

Tom Tillison

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