Paul Manafort is now, officially, a white-collar criminal. On Tuesday, a federal jury found the president’s former campaign manager guilty on 8 of the 18 counts that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had brought against him. The jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the ten other counts, and Judge T.S. Ellis declared a mistrial on those charges.
None of Manafort’s crimes were related to Russian interference in the 2016 election (as the president’s stalwart supporters will eagerly inform you). Rather, in the course of investigating such interference, Mueller uncovered evidence that Manafort had committed a wide variety of financial crimes – including the five counts of tax fraud, one of hiding foreign bank accounts, and two of bank fraud that the jury convicted Manafort of on Tuesday (the jury was unable to agree about whether Manafort was guilty of three other charges of failing to report foreign bank accounts and seven other counts of bank fraud or conspiracy to commit bank fraud). Although the convictions have no direct bearing on Mueller’s broader investigation, they serve to legitimize his probe – and could also, theoretically, loosen Paul Manafort’s lips. If the former Trump aide does not talk (and doesn’t recieve a presidential pardon) he could face as many as 80 years in prison.
Trump’s former attorney John Dowd reportedly floated the possibility of a pardon to Manafort’s attorneys last summer. The president, for his part, has given indications that he regards Manafort as an innocent man who has been railroaded by a corrupt investigation. Last week, Trump said that it was “very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort,” insisting that his former campaign manager was “a very good person.” On Tuesday afternoon, Trump called Manafort’s conviction “a disgrace.”
The prosecution built its case around the testimony of Manafort’s longtime business partner — and Trump’s 2016 deputy campaign manager — Rick Gates. Gates pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and lying to the FBI, thereby securing leniency in exchange for his cooperation in the Manafort case. Gates testified that Manafort had directed him to help falsify Manafort’s tax returns, leave 15 of Manafort’s bank accounts unreported, and leave the U.S. government unaware of his boss’s status as a foreign agent (in defiance of federal law). The defense argued that Gates had committed such crimes without Manafort’s awareness. In its bid to compromise the witness’s credibility, Manafort’s attorneys confronted Gates with (among other things) his alleged “four extramarital affairs.” The defense believed that its cross-examinations had proven that the prosecution could not meet its burden of proof, and opted to call no witnesses of its own.
During his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump insisted that his exceptional taste in personnel would compensate for his political inexperience, saying, repeatedly, that he hires “the best people.” Since taking office, Trump’s first national security adviser, campaign chairman, campaign foreign policy adviser, deputy campaign manager, and personal attorney have all been convicted of federal crimes.