ALEXANDRIA, Va. – In a crowded federal courtroom, jury selection on Tuesday began in the bank and tax fraud case of Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman
. Manafort, 69, is the first American to be charged with investigation by Special Adviser Robert S. Mueller III to protect his innocence and force prosecutors to prove their case in court. The other four Americans, who were charged by Mr Müller's team, three of whom had also worked for Mr. Trump's election campaign, pleaded guilty and awaited their conviction.
The charges against Mr. Manafort are not linked to Russia's involvement in the 201
Judge TS Ellis III of the United States District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, has told lawmakers for both sides that he will not allow politics or anti-Russian sentiments to pollute the jury. Starting jurors can not be questioned about whom they chose, he has decided. And he warned prosecutors and defense attorneys not to recommend Russia when presenting their evidence.
The court began to elect 16 jurors – 12 seats and four deputies. The process is expected to take at least three weeks.
The judge gave the pool of 60 aspiring jurors, which he called "thumbnail scripts" of the allegations in the indictment. Mr. Manafort, wearing a black suit and sitting with his lawyers, turned to the potential jurors, offered a small smile, and turned away as the charges were raised.
Judge Ellis interviewed many potential jurors about social issues or professional relationships with people within the Department of Justice, assuring them he would consider their August vacation plans, childcare and even pet care.
"I have pets," he explained.
The prosecutors have pared what they claim is an overwhelming case that Mr. Manafort averted taxes on tens of millions of dollars of income he collected from his work in Ukraine. By the time this failed, they claim that Mr. Manafort had bankrupted to maintain a lavish lifestyle.
They listed more than 400 exhibits and said they could call nearly three dozen witnesses, including Rick Gates, Mr. Manafort's former right-hand man, and Trump's deputy campaign manager. Mr Gates pleaded guilty to the case and cooperates with Mr Müller's request. Manafort has maintained his innocence and has shown no inclination of the public to seek or agree to an appeal. Mr Manafort said he knew nothing about Russian participation in the election. Trump has repeatedly hinted that he is surprised how hard Mr. Manafort has been treated. In an interview with Fox News two weeks ago, he said the indictments filed against his former advisors, including Mr. Manafort, were "a very sad thing for our country."
He described Manafort, who supported the electoral campaign for two delegates months before he became election campaign chairman, as "a nice man". He added, "You see what's wrong with him, it's like Al Capone."
Since Mr Müller's request began in May 2017, a dozen Russian intelligence officers have been charged with hacking Democratic Party computer accounts and the presidential campaign. Another 13 people were charged with illegally using social media to sow discord or get American voters to vote for Mr. Trump.
The other four Americans indicted for Mr. Mueller's efforts plead guilty. This includes Mr. Gates; Michael T. Flynn, a campaign adviser who became President Trump's national security adviser, and George Papadopoulos, an unpaid campaign adviser, targeted by emissaries associated with Russian intelligence.