Giuliani says former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort doesn't have 'incriminating' dirt on president

Key Points
  • On the eve of Paul Manafort's first trial, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani says Trump's former campaign chief "has no information incriminating of the president."
  • Jury selection begins Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.
  • The charges are not connected to the Trump campaign, but instead relate to consulting work Manafort did for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.

On the eve of the first federal criminal trial of Paul Manafort, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Monday the president's former campaign chief "has no information incriminating of the president."

"I know that for a fact," Giuliani said during an appearance on CNN's "New Day" show. "They can squeeze him — he doesn't know anything."

Giuliani then added: "He was with him for four months" — a reference, short by one month, to Manafort's tenure with President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign.

If Giuliani is correct that Manafort does not have any damning information about Trump, Manafort may have a lot smaller bargaining chip to obtain leniency from special counsel Robert Mueller than many people in Washington suspect. There is widespread speculation, including by the trial judge, that Mueller's prosecution of Manafort is designed to get him to "flip," and give Mueller evidence that can be used against Trump.

Giuliani's comments came days after reports that Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is willing to tell Mueller that the president knew in advance of a June 2016 attended by Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and a Kremlin-connected lawyer in Trump Tower in New York.

The Russian lawyer was granted the meeting by offering the Trump campaign negative information about the Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton. Trump and his son have claimed the president did not know about the meeting in advance, and both have said that the lawyer ended up not providing any information about Clinton.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, for the first of two scheduled criminal trials for Manafort. Neither cases are related to any actions by the Trump campaign.

Behind the charges

But the case is being prosecuted by Mueller's team, which is investigating possible collusion by the Trump campaign with Russians seeking to interfere in the 2016 election.

And Manafort came under scrutiny from the Justice Department's inquiry into Russian meddling because of his status as Trump's campaign boss.

Manafort, 69, is accused in the Virginia case of bank fraud and tax crimes related to his consulting work for the then-Russia-leaning government of Ukraine headed by Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort faces up to a decade in prison if convicted.

The judge, T.S. Ellis III, earlier this year voiced to Mueller's team what Trump and his own lawyers long have suspected about the charges against Manafort: "You don't really care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud. You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever."

Prosecutors say Manafort hid $30 million or even more of money he made from his Ukraine work in off-shore bank accounts in a bid to avoid paying American taxes on that income. On Monday, Mueller's office filed court papers saying that Manafort earned more than $60 million in Ukraine, and that prosecutors plan to prove he "failed to report a significant percentage of it on his tax returns."

After Yanukovych fled to Russia, Manafort's cash stream from Ukraine died. Prosecutors said he then resorted to bank fraud to maintain an affluent lifestyle.

With some of that cash, Manafort allegedly bought real estate and spent nearly $1.5 million on suits and other clothes. He dropped almost $2 million to buy antiques, according to prosecutors.

The key witness

A key witness against Manafort at his trial will be his former business associate and fellow Trump campaign official, Rick Gates.

Gates copped a guilty plea to lying to conspiracy and making false statements earlier this year.

Many of the other of the nearly three dozen witnesses on a list submitted by prosecutors are connected to financial firms that Manafort did business with.

Manafort had been free, albeit under home confinement, on a $10 million release bond until June, when Mueller accused and then charged him with trying to tamper with potential witnesses against him. Since then, Manafort has been locked up in jails in Virginia.

His second trial, in federal court in Washington, is scheduled to start in September. That case, which includes allegations of money laundering, is also related to his work in Ukraine.