Politics

Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort starts his trial Tuesday. Here's what you need to know

Key Points
  • Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, is set to stand trial on charges brought through special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe on Tuesday.
  • Manafort's trial on bank fraud and tax crime charges is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. ET in a U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., and is expected to last roughly three weeks. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges lodged against him.
  • Manafort faces similar charges in federal court in Washington, D.C., though that trial isn't scheduled to begin until Sept. 17.

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is set to become the first person to stand trial on charges brought through special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

Manafort's trial on bank and tax fraud charges is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. ET in a U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., and is expected to last roughly three weeks. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges lodged against him.

Here's what you need to know to get caught up in time for Manafort's trial:

Who is Paul Manafort? Manafort, 69, is a veteran political operative who had developed deep ties to the upper echelons of Ukrainian politics through the pro-Russian Party of Regions since the mid-2000s. He was paid millions for his alleged lobbying efforts on behalf of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort was hired by Trump's campaign in March 2016 and promoted to a top position in May 2016. He held the role for about three months before resigning on Aug. 19.

What is he charged with? Federal prosecutors on Mueller's team have accused Manafort – and his longtime partner Rick Gates, who also worked as a senior official on Trump's campaign – of concealing tens of millions of dollars from the U.S. government by laundering the money through various offshore accounts. He has been charged in the Virginia case with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and subscribing to false income tax returns.

But isn't he facing two trials? Yes, Manafort faces similar charges in federal court in Washington, D.C. That trial isn't scheduled to begin until Sept. 17. Gates, who was also charged in that case, pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of lying to investigators. While Gates has pledged to fully cooperate with Mueller as part of his plea agreement, Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges in the D.C. case.

Why was Manafort sent to jail before the trial even started? In a separate indictment filed June 8, the special counsel accused Manafort of tampering with potential witnesses and asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is presiding over the Washington case, to revoke Manafort's $10 million bail and detain him pending his upcoming trials. Jackson agreed, ordering Manafort to jail on June 15. Manafort's lawyers have appealed the decision.

Why is he being prosecuted by the special counsel? According to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's May 2017 order, Mueller is looking at "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated" with Trump's campaign, as well as matters that arise from the investigation. Mueller's team has said it will not bring forward evidence regarding Russian collusion at the Virginia trial. But a court filing in July did show that Manafort secured loans worth $16 million between April 2016 and January 2017 from a "senior executive" who wanted Manafort to help him land a job as an advisor for Trump.

So this case has nothing to with the probe of Russian election meddling? Manafort's lawyers have said from the outset that the special counsel's mandate was too broad and that Mueller had exceeded his authority. The judge in the Virginia criminal case, T.S. Ellis, has at times cast aspersions on the federal prosecutors' intentions in levying so many charges against Manafort. But Ellis later denied Manafort's efforts to dismiss charges against him and reaffirmed Mueller's authority in the case.

What has President Trump said about this trial? While Trump has not specifically referenced the pending Virginia trial, he has recently weighed in on Manafort's legal developments. Before the June 15 hearing in which Manafort was sent to jail, for instance, Trump said, "Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign," adding that "I feel a little badly about" his former campaign chief's predicament. After Jackson announced her decision to revoke his bail, Trump tweeted that Manafort had received a "tough sentence."

Does this trial hold any consequences for Trump? It doesn't appear that there's any direct link between the Manafort trial and Mueller's probe of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. But both of Manafort's pending trials have been the subject of heavy speculation that Mueller is attempting to pressure Manafort into divulging any information he may know about that collusion probe. Judge Ellis himself voiced such suspicions in a May hearing, admonishing Mueller's team: "What you really care about is what information Mr. Manafort could give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment." Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said Monday that Manafort does not have any "incriminating" information on Trump.