Below is my column in USA Today on the increasingly dire situation for Paul Manafort who is looking at roughly a decade of potential jail time after the convictions in Alexandria — and substantially more jail time if convicted in the upcoming trial in Washington, D.C. In the meantime, yesterday, White House said that no decision has been made yet on a possible pardon for Manafort.
Manafort once said, while he listens to everyone, Trump’s voice was louder than others. That voice must be uncomfortably quiet in the aftermath of the verdict.
Here is the column:
The conviction of Paul Manafort was just about as predictable as a tweet from President Donald Trump in its aftermath. The Manafort verdict in Alexandria, Virginia, confirms a rather obvious assumption that, if you do not take the stand in your own defense and then decline to actually present any defense witnesses (or even a cognizable defense), you are likely to be convicted. The real question should not be how Manafort was convicted but what he is actually trying to achieve in court.
He now heads to Washington for a second trial. It is less of a second chance as it is a repeat performance for a jury of one: President Trump.
The Virginia trial involved complex and relatively dry transactional crimes in 18 counts, including failing to file foreign bank account reports, four counts of bank fraud and five counts of bank fraud conspiracy. These were the counts that Manafort had the best chances of knocking down, but he was still convicted on eight of the 18 counts.
Manafort’s image will get worse in new trial
Manafort elected to divide the cases rather than face a single, unified trial. The reason may be that he believed the Virginia jury pool was better for him and he would succeed in defeating some of those counts or even secure a hung jury in his home state. Moreover, success in Virginia might give sufficient cover to Trump to finally issue the long-sought pardon for Manafort — citing the failure to convict and the disconnect between the crimes and the original mandate for special counsel Robert Mueller. That is if he were acquitted or the jury hung. Which didn’t happen.
The problem for Manafort is these trials make it increasingly difficult to portray him as a victim. Indeed, the next trial is likely to remove any lingering doubt about Manafort’s felonious record. The next trial starting Sept. 17 involves allegations of money laundering and foreign lobbying as well as false statements to the FBI. The government is preparing almost three times the number of documents detailing his transactions and associations with an array of sleazy characters around the world.
Manafort’s dealings in the indictment include his involvement working on behalf of a pro-Russian faction in Ukraine. The prosecutors notably held back much of the evidence of Manafort’s Ukrainian dealings in the Virginia trial, but they are likely to unleash that evidence into open court in Washington. When they do, Manafort’s already tainted image is likely to get much much worse.
Manafort was working for the interests of one of the most bloodsoaked and sinister figures in Eastern Europe — Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych — widely viewed as a Russian stooge who took over the government with the help of Moscow and ultimately did Moscow’s bidding. Yanukovych was accused of not only massive corruption, but also the murder of protesters and the arrest of political opponents. He accumulated an estimated net worth of $12 billion through alleged pilfering of Ukrainian funds. He ultimately fled to Russia.
When he fled into Russian exile, Yanokovych took away not only Manafort’s most important client but also the source of his wealth. Manafort’s opulent lifestyle now faced a serious downgrade. It was then, the government claims, that he began to lie to banks, the IRS and ultimately investigators.
Only Trump can keep Manafort out of prison
Manafort, however, does not seem seriously engaged in an effort to seek acquittal. His strategy in Virginia at best was a hung jury strategy that ultimately backfired. In Washington, Manafort is likely to be focused on one juror three blocks away on Pennsylvania Avenue. From the outset, Manafort seemed to accept that he was at best likely to knock down or hang on some counts. He would still be looking at a decade in jail on any counts remaining. Manafort could face an additional 20 years in jail if convicted in Washington.
For Manafort, the difference between 10 and 20 years may seem less significant at age 69 than the chance, even a remote chance, of a pardon.
Since an innocence defense seemed a tad forced, Manafort’s best chance was to make his trial about something other than his crimes. Manafort is hoping that Trump’s visceral dislike for Mueller’s investigation will continue to grow to the point that he is willing to issue a pardon for Manafort to spite Mueller. But the pardon would have the same fault that Trump long highlighted in the prosecution: a disconnect from the Russian investigation.
Just as Mueller has been criticized for pursuing unrelated crimes, a pardon of unrelated crimes raises questions for the White House on why Manafort should be allowed to walk away from crimes committed long before the campaign.
As an attorney, Manafort preferred to work in the shadows for people like Yanukovych, who do not improve with sunlight. Manafort was adept at finding ways to capitalize on the sometimes desperate circumstances of his clients. He made tens of millions by advancing his position through the gravitational pull of powerful men. He is still doing that.
While relatively passive in his own defense, he is actively staying close to Trump in the hope that a final break with Mueller will be the big break for him. Manafort once said, “I work directly for the boss. I listen to everybody, but I have one man whose voice is louder than everybody else’s.”
Indeed, that is now the only voice that can save Paul Manafort.
Jonathan Turley, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter: @JonathanTurley