Prosecutors highlight Manafort’s lavish spending on trial’s second day

Paul Manafort trial offers glimpse into what Robert Mueller actually has in his investigation

While the main areas of Mueller's investigation are Russia's actions during the 2016 presidential election and any attempts by Trump to obstruct justice, none of those topics are expected to come up in Manafort's trial.

And it will unfold at a delicate time for the president as Mueller's team presses for an interview and as Trump escalates his attacks on an investigation he calls a "witch hunt".

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye, a member of Mueller's team, said of Manafort: "A man in this courtroom believed the law did not apply to him".

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort begins his first of two trials on Tuesday.

Al Capone, the Chicago mobster dead more than 70 years, is trending worldwide on Twitter this morning because President Donald Trump tweeted that authorities treated the gangster better than they are treating his former campaign chief Paul Manafort.

Manafort's consulting work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine that earned him $60 million also took the spotlight in testimony in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, outside Washington.

Manafort is accused of failing to report tens of millions of dollars in Ukrainian political consulting fees and using that money to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Manafort's defense team had accused Gates of being the actual brains behind Manafort's alleged financial misdeeds in their opening statement less than 24 hours before.

But the profligacy of Manafort's past spending overflowed the limits imposed by the judge, with a auto dealer detailing his purchases of vehicles including a Mercedes and a Land Rover, and a real estate agent describing Manafort's purchase of a Virginia home for one of his daughters.

Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud related to his lobbying activities on behalf of the former Russian-backed government of Ukraine. As he was leaving the courtroom at the end of day, he blew a kiss and mouthed "I love you" to his wife, Kathleen, who was seated in the first row.

Diverting attention from Manafort by questioning Gates' involvement in the pair's finances is a smart tactic, one former federal prosecutor with experience in similar tax fraud cases said. At one point, his defense lawyers sued Mueller and the Justice Department, saying they'd 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.

The charges largely pre-date the five months he worked for Trump during a pivotal period in the 2016 race for the White House, some of them as campaign chairman.

Lawyers for Manafort countered by painting Manafort as a victim of his employees, including former colleague Rick Gates, who is cooperating with Mueller's probe.

US taxpayers are audited rather than "punished" for the "mistakes" they make on their tax returns, he said, adding that Manafort and his company were not audited by the IRS prior to the special counsel's investigation.

"This case is about taxes and trust", defence attorney Thomas Zehnle told jurors.

However, Ronald Wall, the top financial officer at House of Bijan, said that Manafort was not the only customer there who paid via wire transfer. A judge jailed Manafort in June over allegations of witness tampering as he awaited trial. Mr Manafort denies all charges, and at one point had sought to get them dismissed.

A Manafort conviction would give momentum to Mueller, who has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 people and three companies, including 12 people court documents described as Russian intelligence agents who hacked into Democratic Party computer networks.

His trial is expected to be lengthy.

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