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    This courtroom sketch depicts Paul Manafort, seated right row second from right, together with his lawyers, the jury, seated left, and the U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III, back center, listening to Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye, standing, during opening arguments in the trial of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Manafort's on tax evasion and bank fraud charges.

    Manafort Trial Aim 'to Turn Him Against the President' - Political Analyst

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    US President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort trial began in Virginia. Prosecutors allege that Manafort evaded taxes by funneling millions of dollars through 30 offshore accounts. The former Trump aid faces more than 30 criminal charges and could be sentenced to years in prison.

    Sputnik discussed the trial with Earl Rasmussen, executive vice president of the Eurasia Center.

    Sputnik: Now what is your take on Paul Manafort's first day on trial?

    Earl Rasmussen: I really wasn't impressed. I've read a summary of what was discussed and there's no real factual information, I think they're trying to capture the jury, when they're talking about his house and clothes that he had, and things like that, so I think it's questionable, at least initially in the opening stages right now. Obviously, on the other side, Manafort's lawyers are looking to discredit Rick Gates and question his reliability and his responsibility, so I think it's early to say what's going to happen. I think the trial is going to last about three weeks, personally I think maybe there is some other thing involved with it, but it just is very questionable the whole approach here, to try and capture Manafort and ideally try to turn him against the President.

    READ MORE: Prosecution in Manafort Trial is 'Politically Tainted' — Journalist

    Sputnik: Prosecutors portrayed Mr. Manafort as a liar who placed himself above law, how justified are these allegations?

    Earl Rasmussen: I don't think they really are. His primary area of expertise is in government consulting, he has worked on campaigns for Gerald Ford, for George Bush one and two, obviously, he had been a campaign person for Mr. Trump, so he's busy over there, I think he's got a lot of money coming in, and he's hired some great people. In fact, Mr. Devine just the other day commented on how great a team that he had put together for Yanukovych, and when you got that kind of money coming in from different places, it probably wouldn't surprise me from offshore accounts, you don't have time for that stuff, you hire somebody to look after that, so I think they are trying to portray his character as such to kind of guide and lead the jury in that direction. Is he ultimately responsible — yes — but is he what exactly they're saying, I don't get that so far.

    Sputnik: Some media reports have focused on the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia despite the fact that counts that Mr. Manafort is facing have nothing to do with the Mueller probe, what do you think are the main reasons for that?

    Earl Rasmussen: I think they're, obviously, trying to link whatever they can, and they're desperately searching. Anything to tie Mr. Trump to the Kremlin, and I don't think there's anything there. Obviously, Manafort did political consultancy for Yanukovych, Yanukovych, I'm not going to say he's close to Mr. Putin at all, but he was more pro-Russian than not, and he helped him win an election there and they're grabbing straws that are floating around in thin air to try to tie any type of linkage to collusion. Now if you're going to do that you might as well just enjoy it and include the other people working in Ukraine which include Mr. Gates, Mr. Podesta, Tony Podesta, John Podesta's brother who ran Hillary's campaign, Mr. Devine himself, who advised Bernie Sanders, so there's a lot of other parties if that's how you're going to make a connection to Russia, you probably could look at both parties and both political consultant sides on the political consulting area.

    READ MORE: Judge Tells Prosecutors in Manafort Case to Watch Their Language — Reports

    Sputnik: Do you think that we're going to see more people with connections to President Donald Trump go on trail in the course of Mr. Mueller's investigation?

    Earl Rasmussen: Yes, I think so. I think they're going to try to dig out as many people as possible, I think they're desperately grabbing for things, there's really nothing there, and they're desperately grabbing for whatever they can. Like in this case, Mr. Manafort's charges all go back  several years, it's nothing to do with any type of collusion or any type of interference, or anything like that, and they're basically looking for things, for people who have a connection to Trump, and it's a typical strategy, when the prosecution will look to turn witnesses that still have something on them and they will try to convince them to change their stories a little bit to support their narrative, but, yes, absolutely, we're going to see more people.

    READ MORE: Paul Manafort's Trial Begins; Potential Collateral Damage for President Trump?

    Sputnik: How do you think the situation will develop further? What will be the outcome of this trial?

    Earl Rasmussen: You've got the tax evasion here, you're dealing with foreign enemies, very complex as far as other taxes, where is the money, where was it paid to, did Mr. Manafort have a separate entity in a different country that it got paid to, did he repatriate the money, did he not repatriate the money, that comes into play as well. On the FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) side that he'll stand trial for later on, that was the 1938 law against propaganda, and here he's actually trying to build a better relationship for the West with Ukraine, from what I've read.  So really that's going to be questionable as well, and no one's ever been convicted under FARA for a very long time, so I don't think that's going to add up and I think it's going to be very difficult to stand up on the tax evasion issue as well.

    The views and opinions expressed by Earl Rasmussen are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    trial, Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, United States
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