Jury Seated in Paul Manafort Fraud Trial in Virginia

Security personnel from the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service, watch the vicinity around the Alexandria Federal Court in Alexandria, Va., on day one of Paul Manafort’s trial, Tuesday, July 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

(CN) — A jury has been seated in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on tax evasion and bank fraud charges.

A jury of six men and six women has been sworn in for the trial, and four alternate jurors, three women and one man, have also been selected.

Opening arguments will begin later Tuesday afternoon.

Manafort, who could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted, appeared calm and relaxed as U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III and the attorneys for both sides winnoed down the pool of 32 men and 33 women from which the jury and alternates was chosen.

Manafort’s is the first trial to result from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia, and while the charges Manafort faces have no direct connection to the campaign, the proceedings are widely viewed as a litmus test of the legitimacy of the ongoing probe.

Manafort is accused of trying to hide tens of millions of dollars in Ukrainian political consulting fees and using that money to fund a lavish lifestyle. He is the only American charged by Mueller to opt for a trial.

Despite the seriousness of the charges against him, Manafort, appeared unbowed as he threw his arm over the back of a high leather chair he sat in next to his defense attorney, Kevin Downing.

Manafort smiled politely at jurors during attorney introductions, and he also occasionally turned to exchange glances with his wife, Kathleen Manafort, at whom he winked before turning his attention back to the prospective jurors.

Prosecutors are expected to call 35 witnesses and present more than 500 pieces of evidence they say will show how Manafort earned more than $60 million from his Ukrainian work and then concealed a “significant percentage” of that money from the IRS.

Prosecutors will also argue that Manafort fraudulently obtained millions more in bank loans, including during his time on the campaign.

They say they will also introduce evidence that a chairman of one of the banks allowed Manafort to file inaccurate loan information in exchange for a role on the Republican campaign and the promise of a job in the Trump administration that never materialized.

Judge Ellis began the morning by saying he would not rule on Manafort’s request to throw out exhibits specific to Ukraine.

Protesters hold their banners in front of the Alexandria Federal Court in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, July 31, 2018, on day one of Paul Manafort’s trial. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“The government is correct that the documents show the nature of funds were related to income that had to be reported and is therefore relevant,” Ellis said. “The fact is, some of the documents may be relevant but they could be inadmissible if they are cumulative, unfairly prejudicial or confusing but I haven’t made up my mind yet.”

Ellis said as the trial moves forward, he does want the attorneys to try to trim the exhibit list and warned both side that he did not wish to see the 400-page, 50 exhibit list suddenly “dumped” on jurors when it came time to render a verdict.

The issue of Ukrainian evidence would be addressed long before then, he said.

There was at least one moment of levity Tuesday morning. After one juror interrupted Ellis as he asked whether her brief employment by the Justice Department in the 1980s would would impact her ability to render an impartial verdict, the judge smiled and said “You have to let me finish my question for the record.”

The exchange inspired laughter in the courtroom. “I know I’m predictable but my wife says it’s one of my only virtues,” Ellis joked.

While Trump will hover like a specter over the proceedings, neither the 2016 president election nor any of the many incendiary statements the president has made since about the investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives are likely to come up.

Prosecutors said last week they don’t expect the word “Russia” to be mentioned at all.

Instead, the trial will center on Manafort’s Ukrainian consulting work and only briefly touch on his involvement with the president’s campaign.

Prosecutors have lined up 35 witnesses and more than 500 pieces of evidence they say will show how Manafort earned more than $60 million from his Ukrainian work and then concealed a “significant percentage” of that money from the IRS.

They will also argue that Manafort fraudulently obtained millions more in bank loans, including during his time on the campaign.

In particular, prosecutors say they will introduce evidence that a chairman of one of the banks allowed Manafort to file inaccurate loan information in exchange for a role on the Republican campaign and the promise of a job in the Trump administration that never materialized.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him. The star witness of his trial is likely to be another Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates, who spent years working for Manafort in Ukraine and is also accused of helping him falsify paperwork used to obtain the bank loans.

Gates, who cut a plea deal with Mueller earlier this year, is expected to testify against his former mentor.

Gates will also likely figure in Manafort’s second trial scheduled for September in Washington, D.C. That trial will focus on allegations that the longtime political consultant acted as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukrainian interests and made false statements to the U.S. government.

The day began with a long line extended from inside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia to the plaza outside. Some spectators said they had arrived as early as 6:30 a.m. to take in the proceedings.

Several news trucks and camera crew stood poised outside the courtroom’s main entrance and nearby, a group of roughly 20 protesters carried colorful signs that read: “It’s Mueller Time,” “Your Silence Gives Consent” and on one, a jab at Manafort’s penchant for lavish spending. That sign read: “Was the $18,000 karaoke machine worth it?”

Another protester carried a life size, homemade Trump cut-out. Crafted from cardboard, the paper Trump sports a red tie with the word “Traitor” running down the middle in black.

It took reporters roughly 20 minutes to get inside. Meanwhile, at the White House, Trump tweeted, “The Fake News Media is going CRAZY!”

“They are totally unhinged and in many ways , after witnessing firsthand the damage they do to so many innocent and decent people. I enjoy watching,” the president said. “In 7 years, when I am no longer in office, their ratings will dry up and they will be gone.”

Trump could pardon Manafort for any federal crimes should his one-time campaign manager be found guilty.

On Tuesday morning, however, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters there have been no discussions at the White House about such a pardon.

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