President Trump on Wednesday said his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted on multiple counts of fraud this week, was a “brave man” who had been unfairly targeted over a “12 year old tax” issue. But a quick look at Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Manafort shows that’s not exactly the case.
Manafort is accused of laundering approximately $65 million in foreign funds from lobbying work he completed on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych between 2010 and 2014. Prosecutors say he funneled that money through several foreign accounts to avoid paying taxes on it, using it to finance a lavish lifestyle that included luxury clothing, vehicles, and home and landscaping renovations. When his Ukrainian funding dried up, Manafort began falsifying documents to obtain loans asking his business associate, Rick Gates, to help him.
(As ThinkProgress previously noted, Gates reached a plea deal with Mueller’s team in February in exchange for his cooperation in the case. On August 6, Gates testified bluntly to jurors that he and Manafort had “commi[tted] crimes” together.)
On Tuesday, Manafort was convicted on eight criminal counts, including five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failing to file foreign bank account reports. He had been facing a total of 18 criminal counts, but jurors were split on some of them, prompting the judge tp declare a mistrial on ten counts, which may be tried again later.
I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” – make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018
Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted his support for Manafort, who he maintained had done nothing wrong.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” he wrote. “‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”
However, at least some of the accusations against Manafort are not as “old” as Trump has suggested.
Manafort was originally indicted in October 2017 on charges of conspiracy against the United States, failing to register as a foreign agent, and money laundering, and was slapped with additional tax and bank fraud charges in February this year, in connection with the aforementioned series of fraudulently obtained loans.
During the course of the investigation, Mueller’s team uncovered evidence that Manafort — who served as then-candidate Trump’s campaign manager from May through mid-August 2016, and maintained a friendly relationship with the transition team well into January 2017 — may have obtained one of the fraudulent loans as recently as 2016, from a man he allegedly promised to endorse as a potential Cabinet member in the Trump administration.
The individual Manafort named for consideration was Stephen Calk, head of Federal Savings Bank, who served as an economic adviser on Trump’s campaign. According to an email dated November 30, 2016, between Manafort and current senior adviser to the president Jared Kushner — Trump’s son in law — Manafort floated the idea of installing Calk as Secretary of the Army.
“I am attaching resumes of 3 individuals who should be a part of the Trump Administration,” Manafort wrote in the email, months after he had left the campaign. “All are supporters since the nomination was secured and have been active in the campaign. The 3 indivituals [sic] are people who I believe advance DT agenda. They will be totally reliable and responsive to the Trump White House.”
He added that he was available to “give…details on the work they did in the campaign or on their backgrounds.”
“On it!” Kushner wrote back.
According to investigators, around the time of that email, Manafort secured a $9.5 million loan from Federal Savings Bank. He was given another $6.5 million in January 2017.
The trial against Manafort was the result of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, as well as allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and possible obstruction by Trump and his associates. Mueller’s team was likely interested in Manafort due to his long connections with Russian figures — and his lobbying work for Yanukovych, and later, the alleged pay-for-play scheme between him and Calk.
Manafort’s conviction comes at a tense moment for Trump. On Tuesday, the president’s longtime lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, also pleaded guilty on Tuesday afternoon to tax and bank fraud, as well as campaign finance violations, in connection to hush-money payments he made to women who claim to have had affairs with Trump, in the lead up to the 2016 election. Cohen said he was ordered by Trump to sign the checks for those payments, in order to influence the outcome of the election.