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?
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.
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.
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.