The Manafort Trial: Recap

By September 13, 2018 CNN

If you followed the high-profile trial of Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of Rick Gates closely, you might have watched DC Defense attorney Shanlon Wu analyzing the cases on CNN or noticed his name appearing in news articles that mention Manafort and Gates. 

Gates was a longtime deputy to Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman who was convicted on August 21 of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to report foreign bank accounts. He was convicted on eight of the 18 charges he was facing.

Gates pleaded guilty in February to similar charges in a deal that forced him to take the stand and testify against Manafort.

Wu, a former federal prosecutor who served as counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, was one of Gates’ defense attorneys until he withdrew from the case in February 2018.

The criminal charges filed against Gates and Manafort were tied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian election interference probe, though the charges did not implicate them in any collusion with Russia.

As Wu pointed out in a CNN column in July, the Manafort trial — the first trial to come out of the Russia investigation — was one that Mueller and his team simply could not lose.

Wu cautioned about the “800-pound gorilla” in the courtroom, President Donald Trump. Although Trump was not present for the trial, his presence could be felt on both sides. If Wu’s theory was correct, the jury likely was comprised of a majority of people who don’t support the president, as this case was as much a court of public opinion as it was a criminal trial.

When the closing arguments came, Wu correctly predicted that the paper trail — the overwhelming number of documents the prosecution submitted as evidence — and the high points of witness testimony would be key in swaying jurors to return a conviction.

Wu also offered enlightening commentary about the colorful judge presiding over Manafort’s trial, Judge T.S. Ellis. The prosecution prevailed in eight out of 18 charges, but it wasn’t with any help from Ellis.

Ellis repeatedly criticized the prosecution’s performance throughout the trial and seemingly whizzed through the jury selection and opening statements, both processes that typically take much longer than they did in cases of this magnitude.

And then there’s the peculiar Andrew Miller, who worked for many years as an associate of Roger Stone. Stone is a longtime political adviser to President Trump, and he’s been the target of Mueller’s team for many months as lawyers continue probing potential election interference.

Miller is one of the few holdouts who has refused to meet with Mueller’s investigators, save for one conversation he had with them outside his home without a lawyer present. He declined to testify before a grand jury, despite a subpoena to do so. He’s been held in contempt of court, but his lawyers are appealing the contempt ruling and trying to get the Supreme Court to rule that Mueller has no constitutional authority to oversee the Russia investigation.

Miller’s lawyers argue that he has nothing to hide: he just wants to be left alone. As Wu noted in a lengthy CNN analysis, that could be true.

“It’s possible he really does know something and they’re trying to protect him,” Wu said. But on the other hand, “You can pitch this guy as a regular American working stiff who’s being caught up in this.”

It’s unclear what’s next in the Mueller investigation, but whatever happens in coming months, Shan Wu will be following the developments closely.