Paul Manafort trial is first court test for special counsel Robert Mueller

AFP Contributor  AFP

Chamber says helping all sectors hit by tariffs would cost B Giuliani rejects purported Cohen claim of second Trump Tower meeting MORE was in court Tuesday for the opening day of his criminal trial on bank and fraud charges brought by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russian Federation probe MORE. "You really don't care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud ..."

Just as an acquittal would be bad for Mueller, a Manafort conviction would give Mueller's team juice to keep their investigation going.

Prosecutors are expected to argue that Manafort's lavish spending on suits, homes and luxury items did not match the income declared on his tax returns and that he misled lenders when he borrowed tens of millions of dollars against NY real estate.

The heart of the government's case involves nine years of Manafort's lucrative lobbying and consulting for Ukraine and its former leader Victor Yanukovych, work the US government said Manafort should have registered with the Justice Department.

Mr Trump has expressed sympathy for Mr Manafort since the charges were laid, calling him a "nice guy".

Already, Judge T.S. Ellis III has confronted questions about whether prospective jurors can be impartial in the highly charged case. Gates pleaded guilty earlier this year and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Most tax and bank fraud cases are built on stacks of bland business documents and Internal Revenue Service paperwork - hardly the stuff of worldwide intrigue.

Given the strength of the evidence, however, some legal experts have suggested Mr Manafort may be banking on an eventual pardon from Mr Trump, who has called his former campaign chairman a "nice guy" who has been treated unfairly. This is a notable development because much of the noise surrounding the Manafort trial began in May.

Manafort's attorneys last week fingered over 50 exhibits included on a proposed government list as prejudicial and irrelevant and asked the judge to disallow them from his trial, set to begin with jury selection on Tuesday.

Paul Manafort served as President Trump's campaign chairman between June and August 2016, resigning amid questions over his lobbying overseas.

But once Mueller's Russian Federation investigation ends, Giuliani told Reuters: "He has a right to consider it".

Mueller has submitted more than 500 pieces of evidence, including tax filings and mortgage statements, and pictures of Manafort's expensive watches and homes.

Gates was originally a co-defendant in the case, until reaching a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller in February.

As president, Trump has downplayed Manafort's role in the campaign. At one point, his defence lawyers sued Mueller and the Justice Department, saying they had overstepped their bounds by bringing a prosecution untethered to the core questions of Mueller's investigation - whether Russian Federation worked with the Trump campaign to tip the election. He has pleaded not guilty.

He warned jurors not to believe Gates when he testifies against Manafort.

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