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What You Need To Know About Fmr. Trump Aide Paul Manafort's Trial

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort's first criminal trial started in Virginia today. Here's what you need to know.

By Kellan Howell | July 31, 2018

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort's trial begins Tuesday. It marks the first courtroom battle resulting from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

But if you're expecting a big break in the Russia investigation, don't hold your breath. 

"This trial has, technically, nothing to do with his activities directly while he was managing the Trump campaign," Mark Graber, a law professor at the University of Maryland Francis Key Carey School of Law explained. 

Manafort faces charges of tax and bank fraud. None of the charges in the case involve any accusations of collusion with Russia during the four months Manafort worked for the Trump campaign.

The trial will mainly focus on allegations that Manafort used offshore accounts to disguise money he earned as a consultant for Ukrainian politicians. According to Mueller's indictment, Manafort defrauded banks to continue living a lavish lifestyle after he stopped working with Ukrainian officials.   

But it will be the first time the public will hear testimony and evidence that Mueller's team has been gathering since the start of its probe, and it will likely produce headlines that could be politically damaging to Trump.

Mueller has submitted a list of 35 potential witnesses for Manafort's trial, including Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates. Gates was indicted with Manafort in February but has been cooperating with Mueller's team as part of a plea deal. 

"Exactly what [Gates has] been saying right now, only Mueller knows. In a few weeks, all of us will know," Graber said. 

The most serious charges in the case could result in prison sentences of up to 30 years. So if the trial starts to go south for Manafort, Graber says he could choose to flip on Trump rather than spend the rest of his life in jail. 

Trump's team has maintained publicly they aren't worried about Manafort's testimony. 

"He has no information incriminating of the president," Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, told CNN. "I know that for a fact. They can squeeze him, but Paul Manafort does not know anything, nor could it be possible that he did. He was with him for four months." 

Manafort's defense team tried to get the case thrown out entirely, arguing the charges are not related to the core of Mueller's investigation. It's likely they will use the same argument to severely limit what kinds of questions Manafort can answer.  

That includes questions over the June 2016 meeting Manafort attended at Trump Tower organized by Russian officials who promised to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton. 

Even if he's convicted, Manafort still has a possible "get out of jail card" … a presidential pardon. But, that would be very politically risky for Trump. 

 "If you're pardoning Manafort after he's convicted by a jury that presumably has no politics at stake, you are saying to the world, 'I don't want this person talking about me,'" Graber said.