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Manafort's lawyers blame Gates in bank fraud trial

By Susan McFarland and Danielle Haynes
Manafort's lawyers blame Gates in bank fraud trial
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives at federal court June 15. His trial on bank fraud charges began Tuesday in Alexandria, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C. File Photo Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

July 31 (UPI) -- Lawyers representing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shifted blame to their client's former business associate, Rick Gates, in the first trial related to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Lawyers gave opening remarks Tuesday afternoon in a quick start to Manafort's trial in the Eastern District Court of Virginia in Alexandria, a suburb of Washington, D.C. They seated a jury of six men and six women earlier in the day.

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Manafort is charged with bank fraud, conspiracy, preparing false tax returns and failing to disclose foreign income. The indictment says he and Gates moved money from Ukraine through foreign bank accounts to conceal it from the Internal Revenue Service.

Opening remarks by Manafort's lawyer, Thomas Zehnle, gave an indication of his defense tactic -- singling out Gates.

RELATED Lawyers: Manafort in solitary confinement 23 hours a day

"This case is about trust because it's about Mr. Manafort placing his trust in the wrong person," Zehnle said of. Gates.

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"Paul Manafort shouldn't be here," he added.

Gates pleaded guilty in February and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation on "all matters" they deem relevant. A judge said Gates faces between 57 and 71 months in prison for his offenses, though his sentence depends on the extent to which he cooperates with investigators.

RELATED Trump Russia probe: Who's involved, where it stands

In their opening remarks, prosecutors said Manafort opened more than 30 bank accounts outside the United States to attempt to hide the $60 million he earned in lobbying in Ukraine.

"There's nothing wrong with being successful or rich, but when you sign a federal tax return you swear you have reported all your income," Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye said.

If convicted on all 18 counts, Manafort could receive 305 years in prison. Prosecutors, though, are recommending 8 years to 10 years.

Special counsel Robert Mueller said he will need about three weeks to try the case, which accuses Manafort of lying to banks to get more than $20 million in loans.

As campaign chairman, Manafort was responsible for all aspects of Trump's White House bid, including shoring up delegate support.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, who's hearing the case, ruled in June that the trial could move forward and that Mueller's team was working within its authority to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election in its prosecution of Manafort. During a preliminary hearing in May, Ellis said he saw no relation between the cases and "anything the special counsel is authorized to investigate," but concluded later that upon further review the special counsel had "followed the money paid by pro-Russian officials" to Manafort.

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Trump has called Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling, which includes potential collusion between Trump's campaign and the Kremlin, a "witch hunt."

Prosecutors have said they don't plan during Manafort's fraud trial to offer evidence related to the Russia case, or make many references to Manafort's association with the Trump campaign.

Last week, Ellis granted Mueller's request to give immunity to five witnesses expected to testify at Manafort's trial, but denied prosecutors' request to protect their identities.

Mueller's team requested the immunity, saying the witnesses refused to testify or would refuse to answer certain questions if not given protection.

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