Politics

BENCH SLAP: Manafort’s First Court Appearance Didn’t Go Well

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was arraigned early Monday afternoon in federal court for 12 criminal charges ranging from money laundering to violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The charges are the first secured by special counsel Robert Mueller in connection with his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Appearing just before 2:00 pm at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson, Manafort pleaded not guilty to all counts of the indictment. He wore a conservative suit and blue tie, sitting stoically throughout except for short exchanges with his lawyer, Kevin Downing. He did not appear to be accompanied by family, was escorted by U.S. Marshals, and spoke only to give his name and swear an oath.

Attorneys Andrew Weissman and Greg Andres appeared for special counsel Robert Mueller. They requested home confinement and a $10 million bail package for Manafort, given the seriousness of the offenses with which he is charged. The former Trump aide faces over a decade in prison and significant fines if convicted of all charges. Prosecutors also claim he is a flight risk, given his significant assets and extensive overseas ties.

Andres revealed that the special counsel’s team has had difficulty ascertaining the extent of Manafort’s financial holdings.

Defense lawyers agreed to the terms. They also agreed to surrender Manafort’s travel documents including his passport. He will be permitted to leave his Alexandria, Va. residence to meet with counsel, appear in court, confer with doctors, or attend religious services.

Speaking after the hearing, Downing told reporters that Manafort’s firm worked to secure democracy in the former Soviet bloc and promote Ukraine’s integration with the European Union. He also said that the Monday’s charges vindicate President Donald Trump’s claim that no evidence of campaign collusion with the Russian government exists.

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“There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort of the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government,” he said.

“Mr. Manafort represented pro-European Union campaigns for the Ukrainians,” he added. “In that, he was seeking to further democracy, and to help the Ukraine come closer to the United States and to the E.U.”

Though the Manafort indictment appears unrelated to Russia’s interference efforts in the 2016 campaign, another former Trump aide, George Papadopolous, pled guilty to lying about the extent of his communications with Kremlin-aligned operatives in interviews with the FBI.

Prosecutors claim Manafort and an associate named Rick Gates funneled millions of dollars from overseas bank accounts and shell companies to buy property, cars, and luxury items including antique rugs and bespoke suits. Manafort allegedly used these assets as collateral to secure favorable loans from American financial institutions.

The money at issue — totaling tens of millions of dollars — derives from work Manafort performed for the regime of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Monday’s indictment claims Manafort’s government relations shop lobbied extensively in the United States on Yanukovych’s behalf, but failed to disclose their ties to the Ukraine to the federal government. Manafort then made false or misleading statements to investigators when questioned about this work, according to the indictment.

Phillip Stucky contributed to this report.

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