Jury picked for trial of ex-Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort, opening arguments set for Tuesday

  • Jury selection began Tuesday in northern Virginia for the federal criminal trial of Paul Manafort, who had at one point headed the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump.
  • Manafort is accused of bank fraud and tax crimes related to the $60 million or so he earned over the course of counsulting for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.
  • Manafort has been held without bail since June after being accused of trying to tamper with potential witnesses by special counsel Robert Mueller.

A jury of six men and six women was selected Tuesday for the federal criminal trial of former Trump presidential campaign chief Paul Manafort slightly less than four hours after it began.

Opening arguments in the case were scheduled to begin later Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., after the jury, along with three female alternates and one male alternate, receive instructions in their duties by the trial judge.

Jury selection began Tuesday morning after Manafort, 69, was brought to court from a jail where he is being held without bail on charges lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller related to the money he made consulting for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine from 2005 to 2014.

The longtime Republican lobbyist — who is accused of multiple counts of bank fraud and tax crimes that could send him to prison for decades if he is convicted — traded his jailhouse jumpsuit for a black suit, white dress shirt and silver tie before he walked into the dimly lit courtroom. He has pleaded not guilty in the case.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers had in total 20 "strikes" that they could use to eliminate potential jurors from the pool of 65 or so who were questioned by both sides and Judge T.S. Ellis III on Tuesday.

They used nearly all of those strikes in a series of rounds, during which Ellis became noticeably impatient with how long each side was taking to decide whom to eliminate.

"Let''s expedite this now," Ellis urged the lawyers at one point.

People outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia where the Paul Manafort trial is set to begin, July 31, 2018.
Kevin Breuninger | CNBC
People outside the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia where the Paul Manafort trial is set to begin, July 31, 2018.

Just before the jury selection process began, Manafort turned around while seated at the defense team's table and gave his wife Kathleen a slight smile and a wink of his eye before about 65 potential jurors were led into the room.

"Nothing you do as an American citizen is more important than jury duty," Ellis told that group of mostly white area residents.

Outside the courthouse, about a dozen protesters heralded the beginning of the trial. They held signs calling Manafort a "traitor" and taunting: "Trump wouldn't do time for you."

"Was the $18K karaoke machine worth it?" asked one sign held by a protester, a reference to Manafort's purchase of a singalong machine for his Hamptons beach home with some of the $60 million or so he allegedly squirreled away in offshore bank accounts and did not report to the IRS.

"Resist thin-skinned demagogues," another sign suggested.

First trial in the Mueller probe

Manafort's case, the first brought by Mueller to go to trial, has received heavy media attention, because of his role in the Trump campaign, and because of speculation that the special counsel is using the charges to "squeeze" Manafort into cooperating with a probe of President Donald Trump.

Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told CNN on Monday that Manafort "has no information incriminating of the president."

"I know that for a fact," Giuliani said. "They can squeeze him — he doesn't know anything."

The jury selection process

The would-be jurors previously had submitted answers to written questions about their awareness of the case against Manafort, which is unrelated to his work leading the Trump campaign for three months in 2016.

Nearly 40 prospective jurors had been booted from the pool because of the answers they gave.

Ellis on Tuesday asked the remaining group how many of them had a connection to either the U.S. Justice Department or the U.S. attorney's office, the prosecuting agencies for the federal government. Nine people raised their hands, but each of them told the judge under questioning that they would not be influenced by their connections.

When one woman among the group anticipated Ellis asking her if she could be fair before the judge could get the question fully out, Ellis quipped, "I know I'm predictable."

"My wife says it's one of my only virtues," he added.

Ellis, prosecutors and Manafort's defense lawyers then began questioning individual jurors after 10 a.m. The questions posed and answers given were not audible to others in the courtroom because of a white-noise machine activated whenever one of the jurors was called up to the judge and lawyers.

Manafort is scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Washington in September on separate charges that are also related to his work in Ukraine.