Westwood Horizon

Manafort Indictment Unlikely to Make Things Worse for Trump


By Clementine Larrouilh, Campus News Editor

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Last October, Paul Manafort, a chairman for the Trump campaign in 2016, turned himself into the FBI after he was accused of 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States. These accusations came under the umbrella of Robert Mueller’s investigation into the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Mueller started investigating halfway through Trump’s first year and since then has cracked down on many former Trump aides during the campaign, but the result of Manafort’s trial could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and possibly be the beginning of the end of the Trump administration.

Manafort was set to receive two trials, one about his own personal finances, the other analyzing his involvement in obstruction of justice, his failure to register a foreign agent, and money laundering. His recent trial delved into the 18 counts of financial fraud against him, all of which he plead not guilty to. This trial didn’t involve anything relating back to the 2016 election and focused solely on Manafort’s financial crimes. However, this didn’t dispel any of the suggested links between Manafort and Russia, which were also very evident in all of the other officials that Mueller indicted.

Even before the announcement of the verdict, it was clear that the result of this politically charged trial, whether guilty or not, would change the face of the Mueller investigation. This is the first breakthrough the investigation has had since last December when Michael Flynn turned himself in. “The outcome of the trial,” the Wall Street Journal writes, “will help determine how the public perceives Mr. Mueller’s 14-month-long investigation into interference in the 2016 election.” If Manafort were to receive an acquittal, it would give Trump license to continue critiquing Mueller’s investigation. That could’ve been disastrous considering that if Mueller had not been able to get a conviction it would mean that all the money that went into the investigation so far, the taxpayer’s money, would’ve been wasted. A conviction would mean that Mueller’s investigation would be able to proceed with fervor and potentially be able to accelerate the pace of his findings.

Manafort’s trial lasted for three weeks and the jury deliberated for four days, which was not surprising considering the number of charges against him, which included five counts for filing false tax returns between 2010 and 2014, four counts for failing to report foreign bank accounts, and nine counts of bank fraud and conspiracies to commit bank fraud. The defense tried to make Manafort seem innocent by implying that he was oblivious to the management of his finances. However, Manafort was notorious for being meticulous with his money, which was touched upon by one of the prosecution’s witnesses, making any doubt that this could be accidental disappear.

Another implication in this case that is important to note, is the testimony of Rick Gates. Gates was indicted on charges similar to Manafort’s, but pled guilty and entered a plea deal with the FBI in which he promised to aid them in their investigation. Gates was an associate under Manafort during the time he committed these crimes. He testified against Manafort in the first trial and ended up being the prosecution’s star witness. The defense tried to discredit him as much as possible, even getting Gate’s to admit to having an affair. This trial proves Gates’s fidelity to the Mueller investigation, which was in question the time leading up to it. Gates was the lynchpin that ended up sealing the deal. If Gates had failed in his testimony, it would’ve cast doubt over the entire trial.

The evidence against him was astounding, but the defense argued their final statement as such, “Defense attorneys, in their closing arguments and in their decision not to call any witnesses, have reminded the jury that it is the government’s job to get over the bar of proof necessary to convict Manafort,” NPR writes. Manafort’s lawyers, even when confronted with excellent testimonies and literal mountains of evidence, decided to say in their final statement that the opposition just didn’t have enough. Honestly, it’s as if the defense just gave up at the end, because to say something like that, in one of the last times that the jury would ever hear them speak, is just sloppy.

However, even with all put before them, the jury still became split on one of the eighteen charges. The Washington Post writes that, “Juries are permitted to return partial verdicts, in which they reach a unanimous decision of conviction or acquittal on some — but not all — of the counts against a defendant. In those circumstances, the acquittal or conviction will stand as the trial outcome for those specific charges, but prosecutors must then decide if they want to retry the defendant on the counts that resulted in a deadlock.” Usually judges will encourage the juries to keep trying, until they reach a unanimous verdict which was the case for the Manafort Trial.

In the end Manafort was convicted on five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the remaining 10 counts, and the judge declared a mistrial on those charges. This constituted a huge victory for Mueller’s special counsel because even though the trial didn’t touch on Russian collusion in the 2016 elections, according to the New York Times this was the “First test of the special counsel’s ability to prosecute a case in a federal courtroom amid intense criticism from the president and his allies that the inquiry is a biased and unjustified witch hunt. And the outcome had substantial political implications, if only in denying Mr. Trump more ammunition for his campaign to discredit Mr. Mueller.”

The Trump Administration has been incredibly shady these past two years, especially concerning Robert Mueller. Trump has kept his base loyal to him by using the media available to him i.e. Twitter. It’s been very effective, to a worrying amount. His power to reach citizens everywhere is only limited by the number of people who don’t have twitter. The unprofessionalism he’s displayed and the amount of doubt he’s strewn over the Mueller Investigation is tantamount to that of a Reddit troll. Maybe the results of Manafort’s trial will make him reconsider all that he’s said about Russian collusion on Twitter, considering that the outcome could significantly damage his administration’s reputation.

Manafort isn’t done though. He has a second trial in September which will examine the charges concerning foreign lobbying and money laundering (the concealing of the origins of illegally obtained money by transferring money from foreign banks and legitimate businesses). This time the special counsel office’s prosecutors have almost three times the amount of evidence than in the first case. What’s more impressive is that none of this evidence overlaps with evidence shown in the first trial.

It’s important not to get too hopeful though. While the result is a blow to the Trump administration, they’ve survived worse in the past. I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone of what happened with Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniels), the hurricane response to Puerto Rico, and the issues concerning White House security clearances. Not to mention everything that happened in the actual election, and he was still elected. At this point, I’m not even sure what could get him impeached. On the bright side though there are only two more years until we get another presidential election, and we’ve managed to survive so far.

The main message I hope I’ve conveyed is Manafort’s Trial does carry many implications for this administration and will be an important factor for the Mueller investigation moving forward. However, it’s important to acknowledge that at this point in his presidency, past the halfway point, with all of the scandals he’s survived, there’s not much additional information that could definitively render his impeachment.

About the Writer
Clementine Larrouilh, Campus News Editor

I'm a junior and I've been on staff for two years. I'm also on the Westwood Debate team as an extemporaneous...

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