In what can only be described as a whirlwind, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's trial kicked off with a busy day of jury selection, opening statements, and the first witness -- Bernie Sanders' campaign strategist Tad Devine, who was partners with Manafort in earlier years.
After the jury of six men and six women was seated, opening statements began. Prosecutors opened with this: "A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him."
Asonye, who faced jurors, then went on to describe how Paul Manafort made $60 million in Ukraine and he didn't report it to the federal government. He described how Manafort used his own 30 bank accounts in three foreign countries to create sham loans and collect untaxed income he spent on luxury goods, like a $15,000 custom ostrich jacket, a $21,000 watch and cars.
In one piece of evidence that prosecutors will show in court, Manafort refers to a secret foreign bank account as "my account," Asonye said. Manafort and his business associates also lied on several forms sent to his tax preparers, banks and the IRS by signing documents that said the foreign accounts did not exist, he said.
"As the old adage goes, just follow the money," Asonye told the jury. "Paul Manafort orchestrated these crimes."
Manafort's lawyer then stepped up for his shot at shaping the narrative. The problem, defense lawyer Thomas Zehnle told jurors, was that Rick Gates was just unworthy of Manafort's trust. It is all Gates' fault, his greed, his avarice, and his wrongdoing. "He had his hand in the cookie jar," Zehnle told jurors.
Manafort's "trust in Rick Gates was misplaced," Zehnle said. Gates changed his story over time — to the point of saying anything to the government, he said. And Gates found himself in a legal bind "because he embezzled millions of dollars from his longtime employer" — Manafort, Zehnle said.
So here is Manafort's defense in a nutshell: It's all Rick Gates' fault.
Tad Devine then took the stand, describing a business relationship to Manafort that stretches back to 2006.
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Devine said he worked in Ukraine from 2005 to 2010 and returned briefly for a project in 2014. “It was an incredible operation,” he said of his first campaign there. Manafort had hired great people, he said, and had “substantial resources … I was really impressed by him.”
On the importance of financial backing, he said, “If you don’t have a lot of resources, how can you win?”
[Viktor] Yanukovych became “part of the future” — he was elected Prime Minister in 2006 — because of the “excellent campaign that Paul ran,” Devine said.
Day 1 was action-packed. While his former campaign manager stands trial for deep and widespread corruption, tax evasion, and money laundering, Donald Trump is holding a rally in Tampa, Florida for his toady Ron DeSantis.
Stay tuned for Day 2. It's sure to be just as action-packed and interesting.