The verdict is in, and Paul Manafort — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair — has been found guilty on eight counts. The jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on the other 10 counts.
A Virginia jury concluded after four days of deliberation that Manafort was guilty of five counts of subscribing to false income tax returns, one count of failing to report his foreign accounts, and two counts of bank fraud.
However, the jury deadlocked on the other 10 charges Mueller brought against Manafort in Virginia — and so Judge T.S. Ellis III will declare a mistrial on just those counts. It is not yet clear whether this is because of one or two holdout jurors (since a verdict on any count must be unanimous) or because the jury was deeply split. Prosecutors are able to try Manafort again on those counts if they so choose, but haven’t yet said whether they will.
Manafort, who has been jailed since mid-June, will now face a possible prison sentence. And his legal woes aren’t over, since he faces another trial in September on seven separate charges in Washington, DC.
Manafort is the fourth former Trump aide to be convicted of crimes charged by special counsel Robert Mueller — and, amazingly enough, his verdict came down just minutes after another former Trump aide, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to charges in a separate investigation Mueller had handed off to the Southern District of New York.
Manafort, however, is the only one of these whose case actually went to trial rather than ending in a guilty plea. So the verdict marks a major milestone in the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election — even though the trial itself wasn’t actually about Russian interference.
The trial instead focused on Manafort’s money. The prosecution alleged that Manafort laundered $30 million he made working for Ukrainian politicians into the US from undeclared offshore accounts without paying taxes. Later, they alleged, Manafort defrauded several US banks to get more than $20 million in loans (after the Ukrainian regime was deposed and he was looking for cash elsewhere).
In the end, the jury convicted Manafort on all five of the tax charges, one failure to report foreign accounts charge, and two of the bank fraud charges.
What this means for Mueller’s larger Russia investigation remains unclear. Many have speculated that Mueller has been using these charges to try to pressure Manafort into “flipping” and providing information on Russian interference or even Trump himself.
But Manafort has shown no sign that he’s interested in doing this, feeding speculation that he’s staking his hopes on a presidential pardon instead — something Trump has neglected to do so far but could at any time.
A stunning fall for Manafort
The verdict marks a stunning fall for Manafort, who’s been at the heights of political power for decades, enjoyed an amazingly lavish lifestyle, and was something of a legend in Republican operative circles.
Manafort had risen to fame doing Republican campaign work in the 1970s and ’80s before launching a high-powered lobbying, consulting, and PR firm that became infamous for representing controversial foreign clients. Then, in pursuit of ever bigger paychecks, Manafort began to focus his work on the former Soviet Union, where superrich oligarchs were seeking expert help navigating the region’s relatively new electoral politics.
In Ukraine, Manafort aligned himself with the country’s pro-Russian political faction: the Party of Regions, led by Viktor Yanukovych. The party was out of power when Manafort began working for them, and his campaign strategy helped make Yanukovych the president of Ukraine in 2010. After that, Manafort became an enormously influential adviser to the regime, and advised on the Ukrainian government’s lobbying and PR strategy in the US as well.
Manafort was extremely well-compensated for all this: Mueller’s team has said Manafort earned more than $60 million in these years, which he parked in a complex web of offshore shell companies. He did not submit legally required “FBAR” forms disclosing these offshore assets to the US government. Then he transferred at least $30 million of that offshore cash into the US, spending it on luxury goods, real estate, and supposed “loans” to his US companies — without mentioning any of it on his income tax returns or paying taxes on that income.
It all began to fall apart in 2014, when demonstrators in Kiev forced Yanukovych out of power and he fled to Russia. Manafort had lost his biggest client and had serious cash flow problems. So, prosecutors alleged, over the next few years, in an attempt “to have the benefits of liquid income without paying taxes on it,” Manafort tried to take out sizable loans on properties he owned — but repeatedly made false claims on these loan applications. (He succeeded in getting more than $20 million in loans.)
During this period, Manafort returned again to the heights of US politics, by getting a high-level job on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Initially hired in March 2016 to help Trump lock down delegates at the Republican convention, Manafort was eventually put in charge of the whole campaign, returning him to the heights of US politics. Eventually, he was fired amid reports raising questions about his Ukrainian money.
Later, Manafort fell under scrutiny in the investigation over the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia — scrutiny that, it seems, unearthed these financial shenanigans that formed the basis of the charges against him.
What Manafort was charged with
The charges against Manafort at the trial broke down as follows:
- False income tax returns (five counts): Manafort did not report any of the $30 million of his Ukrainian payments that he transferred into the US on his income tax returns, or pay taxes on it. He also falsely said, on those tax returns, that he had no authority over any financial accounts in foreign countries. He faced one count for each tax year from 2010 to 2014.
Failure to report foreign bank or financial assets (four counts): Manafort also didn’t report any of his offshore accounts to the Treasury Department by filing what’s known as an FBAR form — a legally required
What’s next for Manafort — and what this means for the Mueller investigation
First off, Manafort will be sentenced for his eight-count conviction in Virginia. Mueller’s team will also have to decide whether to charge him again on the other 10 counts.
There are also the DC charges against Manafort, which are being brought against him separately for jurisdictional reasons. These charges relate to his foreign lobbying work as well as alleged witness tampering earlier this year. This trial will begin on September 17 — which will bring Manafort back to the courtroom yet again.
Then there is the still-unresolved question that’s far more central to Mueller’s probe: whether Manafort or others in the Trump campaign worked with Russian government officials to interfere with the 2016 campaign.
Manafort was a figure of interest in the Russia investigation for a few obvious reasons: He chaired the Trump campaign, and he had longtime ties to Russia. Namely, he had worked for and was indebted to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, his employee Konstantin Kilimnik had alleged ties to Russian intelligence, and his Ukrainian work was for the country’s pro-Russian political faction.
But Manafort was also involved in a couple of mysterious exchanges in 2016. He attended Don Jr.’s infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian delegation, at which dirt on Hillary Clinton was promised. He also exchanged some curious, cryptic emails with Kilimnik about getting into contact with Deripaska during the campaign.
Mueller’s team confirmed in a court filing this year that he was investigating Manafort for potential crimes related to Russian interference with the election. Neither he nor any others on the Trump campaign have been charged with any such crimes yet. But the special counsel’s investigation is still proceeding. Manafort could conceivably lessen his sentence by agreeing to cooperate with Mueller’s team — if they’re even still interested in his cooperation.
More likely at this point, it seems, is that Manafort is gunning for a pardon from President Trump. After all, Trump’s attorney reportedly discussed a potential pardon with Manafort’s attorney last year. And Trump himself has flaunted his pardon power in some high-profile ways.
No recent president has used the pardon power to short-circuit a continuing investigation into a major scandal from his administration. If this were to happen, it would indisputably be Trump’s most provocative move with regards to the Russia probe since the firing of FBI Director James Comey last year. Trump has not yet been ready to take that step. But it’s certainly possible that one day, he might.