Prosecution Witnesses Take Center Stage at Manafort Trial

This courtroom sketch depicts Paul Manafort, fourth from right, standing with his lawyers in front of U.S. district Judge T.S. Ellis III, center rear, and the selected jury, seated left, during the jury selection of his trial at the Alexandria Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, July 31, 2018. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – On the second day of Paul Manafort’s bank and tax fraud trial, jurors will hear from at least two more witnesses for the prosecution, political consultant Daniel Rabin and an FBI agent.

First up at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia on Wednesday will be Democratic strategist Daniel Rabin, a partner with the Rabin Strasberg media consultancy, who helped Manafort produce political ads for television in Ukraine in 2012.

Rabin’s name appears on a handful of the government’s exhibits including one foreign lobbying disclosure indicating Manafort paid Rabin Strasberg roughly $350,000 in 2012 for the firm’s services.

Like Tad Devine, who testified on Tuesday, Rabin worked as a consultant for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, during the 2016 presidential election. Rabin’s firm had previously worked for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in 2014.

Under questioning from prosecutor Greg Andres, Rabin said he travelled between the Ukraine and the U.S. more than 40 times between 2006 and 2014 at Manafort’s behest.

Davis Manafort International reimbursed him for food and other travel expenses and frequently kept him on retainer, he said.

But Rabin went on to say is relationship with Manafort soured in 2014, when Manafort failed to pay him $31,000 for his firm’s assistance with a media campaign in Ukraine.

On cross examination, defense attorney Richard Westling asked Rabin if he “knew Paul Manafort to be a talented political consultant” or if he considered Manafort a “productive” client.

Rabin said he did, further telling Westling that in the years he worked with Manafort he was paid more than $100,000.

Rabin’s testimony on Manafort’s work for former Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych and his political party, the Party of Regions, is just one aspect of evidence the former Trump campaign chairman wanted to keep away from jurors ahead of trial.

Manafort’s five-man defense team said much of the Ukrainian evidence wouldn’t be relevant to trial but prosecutors successfully refuted the claim.

Judge T.S. Ellis III expressed some hesitancy about the Ukraine exhibits, but ultimately agreed to consider them on a case-by-case basis.

The second day of the Manafort trial opened Wednesday morning against the backdrop of another incendiary tweet from President Donald Trump about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible Trump campaign collusion with those efforts.

“This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further,” Trump tweeted. “Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to the USA!”

Later, Trump followed up with a second tweet, seeking to distance himself from his one-time campaign chair.

“Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders,” he said. “He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion – a Hoax!”

Later, the president tweeted, “Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer, and “Public Enemy Number One,” or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement — although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russian Collusion?”

Before jurors were seated Wednesday morning, Judge Ellis wanted to discuss the use of the word “oligarch” at Manafort’s trial.

Judge Ellis told prosecutors not to give jurors the implication that oligarchs are criminals.

“I have some concern over whether the memos [that Rabin and others will refer to in their testimony] are submitted for the truth of the matter,” Ellis said to prosecutor Greg Andres.  “Both sides mention the term oligarch but an oligarch is despotic power exercised by a privileged few. In that definition, a principal in a high school could be considered an oligarch.

“The government is entitled to a fair trial. So is the defendant,” Ellis said.

“Soros would be an oligarch by these terms,” the judge continued, referring to Democratic mega-donor George Soros. “So would the [Koch Brothers]. But we don’t call them oligarchs. Here we will refer to [those named as oligarchs at trial] as a person who helped run a campaign. Oligarch has a pejorative meaning.”

Prosecutor Greg Andres told Ellis that it wasn’t a matter of opinion to use the word, but that it was used only because that is exactly how witnesses had described figures like Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Yanukovych to investigators.

“These are the facts of the case,” Andres said.

Raising his voice, Ellis  replied: “No, It is not a fact. It is an opinion. Find another way to say it. And if you disagree, file a brief…We’re not going to try this case like he associated with despicable people and is therefore despicable. You don’t need the term oligarch. You can use the terms ‘he financed it.’”

An FBI agent who raided Paul Manafort’s home last year testified that agents knocked three times before entering the condominium in the Northern Virginia suburbs.

Agent Matthew Mikuska said he and other agents gathered outside the home, knocked three times and then announced the FBI was there to execute a search warrant.

When no one answered the door, the agents used a key already in their posession, to entered the home. They found Manafort standing inside, Mikuska said.

His testimony conflicts with early media reports that said the FBI had carried out a “no-knock” raid.

Mikuska went on to testify that Manafort’s name was on several documents taken from the home, some describing loan agreements climbing into the millions of dollars, others showing wire transfer invoices.

Prosecutors say the seized documents included a June 2015 loan forgiveness letter that they claim was fabricated by Manafort, and several loan agreements based on allegedly false assertions that funded costly renovations on Manafort properties in the Hamptons, Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida.

The invoices were for everything from the purchase of a $16,000 ftouch screen in Manafort’s office in Bridgehampton, and $150,000 paid for work on daughter Jessica Manafort’s apartment in New York City.

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