Judge T. S. Ellis III opened the second day of Paul Manafort’s fraud trial by asking the prosecution to use another word for “oligarch.” Ellis read aloud the definition of the word and opined that George Soros or David Koch could be considered oligarchs in the U.S. And “principals of middle schools are oligarchs in that sense,” he said. Ellis offered “financiers” as a replacement.
While the prosecution tried to defend its use of the word, Ellis asked them to submit a brief. The case, Ellis told the prosecution, is about whether or not Paul Manafort defrauded banks or underreported his income for tax purposes. He said that the case that Manafort associated with despicable people and “therefore is despicable” would not be the case that was tried in his court.
Two witnesses testified Wednesday morning — FBI agent Matthew Mukuska, who participated in the FBI raid on Manafort’s home, and Daniel Rabin, a Democratic political consultant, and partner at Rabin Strasberg Media.
Rabin worked with Manafort, Rick Gates, Konstantin Kilimnik and Tad Devine on elections in Ukraine. The government questioned Rabin about his work with the Party of Regions on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych, the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine. Rabin was also asked about several invoices he received from Paul Manafort’s political consulting company, Davis Manafort International. Defense attorneys questioned Rabin asked when he was first contacted for the case. Rabin responded that he had been contacted about two months ago. He testified for an hour.
The prosecution then brought Matthew Mikuska, an FBI special agent, to the stand. Mikuska was the “seizing agent” during the raid on Manafort’s condominium in Alexandria. Mikuska confirmed that it was not a “no-knock warrant”, as previously reported. FBI investigators entered the apartment through the garage with a fob and then used a key they had previously obtained to access his apartment. Manafort, Mikuska said, was in the apartment when they entered.
The prosecution then presented several invoices that were seized during the raid. Ellis warned, “We don’t convict people because they have money and throw it around.” The defense successfully objected to several of the invoices on the grounds of their irrelevance. The prosecution presented several invoices for expensive items Manafort bought and wire transfers from Cyprus, revealing a wire trail from Ukraine to Cyprus.
Prosecutors also said during Wednesday’s hearing that Manafort’s former associate, Rick Gates “may or may not testify,” which came as a surprise to the courtroom and to Ellis.
While the government has 35 witnesses, not all of them may be called. The defense is expected to call six witnesses.
Wednesday morning as the trial was beginning its second day. “Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “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!”
In another tweet, the president suggested that Manafort was being treated poorly — worse than mobster Al Capone.
“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?”
Manafort’s trial is the first arising from Mueller’s investigation into potential ties between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. It opened amid unresolved questions about whether Trump associates coordinated with the Kremlin to tip the election in the president’s favor.
But it was clear from the outset that the case would not address these questions: Prosecutors did not once reference Manafort’s work for the Trump campaign. Nor did they mention Mueller’s broader and ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. Mueller was not present in the courtroom.
The trial, decided by a jury of six men and six women who were seated after a brief selection process Tuesday, is expected to last a two weeks. Eight of the 12 jurors are white. They were selected from a pool of 65 potential jurors, in a jury selection process that moved more quickly than anticipated.
Manafort has a second trial scheduled for September in the District of Columbia. It involves allegations that he acted as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukrainian interests and made false statements to the U.S. government.
The other 31 people charged by Mueller so far have either pleaded guilty or are Russians seen as unlikely to enter an American courtroom. Three Russian companies have also been charged.
CBS News’ Clare Hymes and Bryce Klehm contributed to this report.
This is a developing story and will be updated.