On Day One of the Manafort Trial

Yesterday was the opening day of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort's trial on corruption and fraud charges. Rachel Weiner, Justin Jouvenal, Rosalind S. Helderman, and Matt Zapotosky at the Washington Post have a detailed recap of the happenings on Day One, and here is their brief summary:
  • A jury of six men and six women was selected.

  • The government presented its opening statement, accusing Manafort of failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars he earned working for a pro Russia political candidate in Ukraine and using the money to fund a lavish lifestyle, including purchasing a $15,000 jacket "made from an ostrich."

  • Manafort's defense sought to place the blame on his former business partner, Richard Gates, who they said embezzled money from Manafort.

  • Prosecutors called their first witness, Tad Devine, who was Bernie Sanders's chief strategist in the 2016 election.
On the subject of Tad Devine, it appears as though Devine has made a deal in exchange for his testimony, so we may never get to hear him testify about what he knew and/or thought about the Russian campaign to use Bernie Sanders supporters as agents in their disinformation campaign. We did, however, get to hear him testify about how impressive his pal Manafort is:

Yuck. As I've repeatedly observed, we already knew, of course, that Devine and Manafort remain "friendly" — because they were still in communication during the 2016 campaign, to try to orchestrate a debate between Trump and Sanders, explicitly designed to harm Hillary Clinton.

Anyway. Like I noted on Monday, this trial is primarily about Manafort's international corruption, not about collusion while chair of Trump's campaign. Indeed, as Marc Fisher observes at the Washington Post, neither the name "Trump" nor the word "Russia" was even mentioned during the first day of the trial. The focus will largely be on the financial benefits (and attendant frauds) from his entanglement with kleptocrats.

To that end, this piece by Franklin Foer at the Atlantic is very, very good: This Is So Much Bigger Than Paul Manafort.
As Communism fell, the former Soviet Union became the scene of one of the biggest heists in history, and the opportunity of a lifetime for Paul Manafort. In Russia, the KGB steered billions into offshore accounts during the dying days of the regime, the beginning of a pattern of plunder best described by the late Karen Dawisha in her instant classic, Putin's Kleptocracy. These funds became the basis for some of the fortunes of those who now appear as characters in the Russiagate scandal. Vladimir Putin himself amassed wealth that totaled more than $40 billion, when Dawisha calculated his haul several years ago. Russians who invested in Trump real estate over the years had many motives. But everything we know about kleptocracy suggests that they were likely attempting to relocate their money to a place where it would both disappear from public view and have the protections that come with the American rule of law.

An important part of this story is Ukraine. Paul Manafort went to work there in 2004 — and the country's ruling party remained his primary client until 2014. During those years, the country hemorrhaged more than $118 billion in illicit financial flows, according to the Kleptocracy Initiative, a think tank that has published invaluable reports about the scourge of corruption. (To set that number in relief, the country's entire gross domestic product in 2013 was $181 billion.) Stealing this money wasn't a victimless crime: It came at the expense of Ukraine's development as a market economy; it sucked funds away from public investment; it eroded faith in democracy and Western institutions. The West hypocritically lectured Ukraine about good government while it profited from Ukrainian oligarchs parking cash in Vienna, London, and New York.

Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs stole these vast fortunes, but they couldn't accomplish the feat on their own. They needed enablers, and in the course of Mueller's prosecution of Manafort, we've come to see how pillars of the American establishment filled this role.
Head on over and read the whole thing.

And if you're looking for regular trial updates, follow the WaPo's live coverage of Day Two.

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