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Jury Selection To Begin In Ex-Trump Campaign Manager Manafort's Trial


The trial of President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, begins today. It'll start with jury selection. And this will be the first trial to come out of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Now, that investigation, of course, began as a probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but this trial will not be about that. Manafort is facing dozens of bank and tax fraud charges. Chuck Rosenberg is with me now. He's the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. That's the same court that Manafort's case is in. Good morning, Mr. Rosenberg.

CHUCK ROSENBERG: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right. If this case is not about Russia, what is it about exactly?

ROSENBERG: Well, in the first instance, Noel, it's about fraud - tax fraud and bank fraud, somebody who was allegedly cheating the system.

KING: Cheating the system how?

ROSENBERG: Well, in a couple ways. As the indictment alleges - and remember, right now, it's just an allegation. The government is going to need to prove this at trial. Mr. Manafort was earning lots of money representing a foreign interest and did a couple of things. He bought a bunch of luxury goods with that money, had it in foreign bank accounts, failed to report it on his IRS returns as required by law. And also, later, as the indictment alleges, as he began to run out of money, began to defraud banks, made false statements on loan applications, overstated income in order to get money from banks. So it is, in essence, a document case and a fraud case.

KING: All right, so not unserious allegations there. Do you have a sense of how strong the government's case against him is?

ROSENBERG: I have a sense. I was a federal prosecutor for a long time and actually prosecuted a number of white-collar cases in the Eastern District of Virginia - same courthouse. These cases tend to be pretty strong. The documents don't lie. The figures, the numbers, are in black and white. If you have X amount of dollars in your bank accounts and report Y amount of dollars on your tax returns and there's a difference between X and Y, well, that tends to be a problem. The government's also going to call a whole bunch of witnesses because these documents have to be authenticated in court. They have to be shown to be genuine. And somebody needs to put some meat on the bone. They need to explain what these documents are and why they matter.

KING: What would a conviction mean for the larger Russia investigation?

ROSENBERG: Well, that's a very interesting question. My surmise has always been that the Mueller team, which is a highly professional group of agents and prosecutors, want to know what Mr. Manafort knows. And there's a couple ways of getting that. One is he could plead guilty and volunteer to cooperate, as others in this investigation have done, or perhaps - and this seems to be the path we're on - they would convict him at trial and down the road try to compel his testimony. But one way or the other, I think prosecutors want to know what Mr. Manafort knows. He was the chairman of the Trump campaign. He was close to a number of central players in this unfolding drama and probably knows a whole bunch of stuff that could help further the Mueller investigation.

KING: But let's say there isn't a conviction. Does that mean Mueller and his team have to step back in some sense?

ROSENBERG: Well, either way, they could still compel his testimony. That's a legal possibility. My guess, more likely than not, is that there will be a conviction because this is a strong case. And as I mentioned earlier, the documents tell a compelling story of tax and bank fraud. But it does have implications for the larger investigation. And I think losing a case such as this one, a high-profile case, would be, at the very least, a psychological setback. But I don't expect that will happen.

KING: Just briefly, you know Judge T.S. Ellis. This is the judge presiding over this case. He made an interesting decision forbidding prosecutors from mentioning Russia or showing pictures of Manafort's lavish lifestyle. Why did he do that?

ROSENBERG: Well, I do know this judge. And I have practiced in front of him. And he's a careful and thoughtful judge, as I think most federal judges are. There's a rule of evidence that tells judges that evidence is only admitted if it's more probative than prejudicial. And here, I imagine he believes that the government can prove its case without resort to what the judge might think would be things that would cast Mr. Manafort in an unfair light.

KING: Interesting.

Chuck Rosenberg, former prosecutor for the Eastern District of Virginia. Thank you so much.

ROSENBERG: Oh, thanks for having me, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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