For months, the Mueller team has been quiet, although it has faced a barrage of attacks by the president and his supporters. Lawyers try their cases in the courtroom and not in the media. Now the first Paul Manafort trial has begun.
There are two cases regarding Manafort. The case that is being tried first involves tax evasion and lying to lenders to obtain a loan. If that sounds familiar, the fraudulent loan application was the charge that Rubashkin was convicted of. In other words, Manafort under-reported his income to the IRS when he was making millions, and then when it dried up he inflated his income to the banks when he wanted to obtain funds.
This trial is important because it gives us a glimpse into the workings of the special prosecutor and his team. They are well prepared and are trying a case like thousands of other cases that go through the federal judicial system. It is not a political clown show like the House Intelligence Committee investigation of Russian interference in our elections and collusion between with the Trump campaign and Russia. It is all about the facts.
It is not coincidental that the president and his supporters have become more unhinged since the trial has started
The prosecution presents its evidence through documents and through witnesses. In this case, like many other cases, some witnesses for the prosecution have incentives to testify favorably to the prosecution because they are being given immunity or have taken a plea with a favorable disposition if they testify on behalf of the prosecution. At Manafort’s trial the defense will have a chance to cross-examine the witnesses and present evidence, although they do not have to. The motive of these witnesses is something that a jury can consider in determining their credibility. However, it does not make their testimony incredible as a matter of law. This is crucial in debunking the argument of Trumpians that since some of the individuals who had been involved in the Mueller investigation did not like Trump or must not like Trump since they are Democrats, the investigation must be improper.
A jury of 12 was selected and is hearing this case. No one is talking about their party affiliation, if known. They were picked because they would be fair whether they are Democrats or Republicans. Juries are fair and so are investigators. They are professionals, and thus the president’s “12 angry Democrats” claim falls flat.
If Manafort is convicted it would have additional ramifications. It will put additional pressure on Manafort to cooperate. At a minimum, it sends a message that the Mueller team is serious about bringing and pursuing charges and can be successful. It also improves their standing in the public, which the president is most worried about since impeachment goes through the House of Representatives and not through a jury.
It is not coincidental that the president and his supporters have become more unhinged since the trial has started. The president has asked Attorney General Sessions to fire Mueller, which he does not have the power to do, and has gone beyond the pale in attacking the press, claiming they cause wars. They are very worried about this trial.
It was a smart move by the Mueller team to start with a trial that does not have any political overtones – to show the public how they are operating in a professional, methodical manner and not being influenced by the noise around them.
The Trumpians talk about the 12 angry Democrats. If Manafort is convicted, will they refer to this jury as 12 angry Democrats?
Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org