The trial, being held in Alexandria, Virginia, is presided over by the sharp-tongued Judge TS Ellis III, who has repeatedly admonished the prosecution to stick to the facts. "I'm not in the theater business," he told attorneys last week after saying he wanted the entire trial done in three weeks' time, Politico reported.
The judge has also accommodated Manafort's legal team, giving them an extra week to review evidence and promising to ensure the details of Manafort's work as a lobbyist in Ukraine don't make their way to the jury, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
"He's not afraid to use his discretion to help defendants when he believes it's the right thing to do," defense lawyer Cary Citronberg told the Post. "So, if Judge Ellis thinks Mueller is acting improperly or Manafort is being treated unfairly, it's certainly possible he'll use the full weight of his power in potentially unpredictable ways to achieve a just outcome."
US President Donald Trump, who according to Politico had previously raged against Manafort when he said in August 2016, "I've got a crook running my campaign," took to Twitter Wednesday to call the prosecution "a hoax" and call upon Attorney General Jeff Sessions to "stop this rigged witch hunt right now."
..This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018
Commenting on the prosecution's use of terms like "oligarch" to describe Manafort and making comments about his profligate lifestyle, journalist and author Daniel Lazare told Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear Wednesday that Ellis was "quite right in slapping it down."
"So, maybe Manafort will get a fair trial, but it doesn't mean this whole prosecution isn't politically tainted, like anything," he told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.
The prosecution indicated Wednesday that it may not call it star witness, Richard Gates, to testify against Manafort. Gates was indicted alongside Manafort last October, although Gates subsequently pleaded guilty and made a plea bargain after more charges were brought against him in February 2018.
"It could mean their case is weak," Lazare noted. "This whole thing is very smelly. I mean, would Manafort be in the situation he is in now if there hadn't been this anti-Russia hysteria? I mean, the answer is obviously not. This prosecution is political, obviously political. They're trying to nail this guy for political reasons, and maybe their case is not very strong."
One of the most puzzling aspects of Manafort's trial is that government prosecutors promised the judge at the beginning of the trial they wouldn't talk about Russia. But that raises the question: if this is the "marquis trial" for the Mueller probe linking Russia to Trump, and Manafort was the chairman of the 2016 campaign that Russia supposedly colluded with Trump on, how could Russia not be central to the case?
Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders. He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion — a Hoax!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018
"Mueller has handed down three major indictments. He's handed down an indictment against Manafort, against the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg and against 12 members of the Russian intelligence service, the GRU," Lazare noted.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has denied that the individuals named in the indictment were part of the GRU.
"He [Mueller] did not intend the latter two to ever come to trial. To his surprise, one of the indictees in the first case, in the Internet Research Agency, actually showed up in Washington and demanded a trial. Mueller apparently panicked and pleaded for more time to assemble his own facts. And it's very, very funny, because the St. Petersburg company, which is known as Concord Consulting, I believe, has hired a very aggressive attorney, who is going after Mueller, hammer and tong, very aggressive, and demanding information from the US government, showing the political nature of the whole prosecution."
But Manafort is not accused of collusion, Lazare noted: he's being charged for tax and bank fraud. He is accused of wrongdoing during his time as Trump's campaign chairman, but an investigation into that "would never have arisen if this whole hysteria had not cropped up. This is the political nature of this whole prosecution."
"There is no doubt there is a hysterical campaign, an anti-Russian campaign, that is going on now, which has totally taken leave of the facts," Lazare noted. "It's not a criminal investigation; it's a political campaign."
Prosecutors indicated Wednesday they expect to rest their case against Manafort next week.