On Tuesday, July 31, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will appear in a Virginia courtroom as his trial begins on 16 charges that include:
- Filing false individual tax returns
- Failure to file reports of foreign transactions
- Bank fraud
- Bank fraud conspiracy
While none of those charges would seem to have anything to do with either Donald Trump or the larger Russia investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the White House will be watching the Manafort trial closely, and the president’s legal team is likely dreading what might surface during testimony in open court.
Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance notes that while judges try to keep things on track and not allow for diversions, you can never estimate what will happen:
“Witnesses sometimes say things you don’t expect, and defense lawyers, on cross-examination, can open a door to new subjects. And once that happens, the witness is entitled to say anything that’s responsive. So it’s entirely likely we will hear things that illuminate the larger work Mueller is doing.”
The “larger work” Vance refers to is the Russia conspiracy case, which involves money, influence, manipulation, and more than a little espionage. All of that tells us that the Trump team is on pins and needles, fearful of what may come out in the weeks ahead.
Manafort’s seemingly endless connections to all things Russian are also causing nerves to be frayed at the White House. Manafort, after all, may be the conduit through which Russia gained a foothold in the 2016 Trump campaign. A Congressional investigator told Vanity Fair:
“There is no part of Manafort’s financial shenanigans that is not fully on display to Mueller. And Manafort doesn’t do things for free. So if your theory of the larger case is that Manafort was the hub of the collusion wheel—and if he got paid for helping facilitate these things—Mueller may have the records. Would they come in during this trial? We’ll see.”
And here’s the other reason Trump and the administration should be worried: When Manafort sees the evidence against him is overwhelming, he may decide to flip and cooperate with Mueller. If that happens, it’s lights out for the Donald.
Things are about to get really interesting.