ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – Judge Thomas Selby Ellis III concluded on Tuesday the task of selecting 12 members of the jury who will decide the guilt or innocence of Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager who stands accused of 18 counts of bank and tax fraud.
The jury selection process took place on the first day of Manafort’s trial in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington DC.
For hours, Judge Ellis questioned the 65 jury candidates about whether they had any relationship with any of the law firms whose attorneys are defending Manafort, as well as about their possible links with the US Justice Department.
The judge also questioned them about the family obligations and whether they have any pets in their care that would prevent them from regularly attending court during the next three weeks, the period that the trial is expected to last.
On Tuesday afternoon, the defense and prosecutors made their opening statements in one of the most important segments of the trial, with the prosecution stating clearly that “Paul Manafort lied.”
Manafort is facing 18 counts of bank and tax fraud for not declaring the $75 million he obtained for advising foreign governments, including that of pro-Russian former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich (2010-2014), whom he helped to improve his image.
Between 2006 and 2017, the prosecution said, Manafort – now 69 – worked for Yanukovich and other foreign leaders without informing US authorities, behavior that constitutes a crime under US law.
The defendant appeared in court dressed in an elegant black suit and not in the dark green jumpsuit he has worn while waiting for trial in prison, where he has been held since mid-June.
This is the first trial resulting from the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the alleged links between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 election.
Manafort’s trial stems from Mueller’s probe, but the charges he is facing in this case are not related to his work as Trump’s campaign chief, a post he occupied from June-August 2016.
The judge on numerous occasions had deemed Manafort a person of interest for Mueller because he could incriminate Trump, if the latter engaged in any criminal behavior.
For the moment, Manafort has pleaded not guilty and has refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
Meanwhile, also on Tuesday an appeals court in the District of Columbia reaffirmed the ruling made in June by a Washington DC judge that Manafort should be jailed because he tried to influence the testimony of two witnesses, and thus he will remain in prison.