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Manafort leaves federal court in December. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is set to begin his trial today in Alexandria, Va., where he faces charges of tax and bank fraud related to the laundering of $30 million worth of income.

Why it matters: This is the first trial of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign and its possible ties to Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller's team is not expected to make any reference to the words "Russians" or "collusion," per ABC News, but will instead focus on Manafort's alleged financial crimes, including those related to his political work as a lobbyist in Ukraine.

The details:

  • In his indictment, Mueller alleges that Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign government from at least 2006 to 2015 while representing the pro-Putin government of Ukraine.
  • Manafort and his associate Rick Gates, who reached a plea bargain with Mueller in February, allegedly engaged in a scheme to hide tens of millions of dollars in income through offshore accounts in order to avoid paying taxes.
  • When the money from Ukraine dried up, Manafort defrauded several U.S. banks in order to secure loans of more than $20 million and continue living "a lavish lifestyle" in the U.S, where he spent money on things like custom-made suits, Range Rovers, and Persian rugs.
  • Mueller's prosecutors plan to call 35 witnesses over the course of the three-week trial, many of whom will reportedly attest to Manafort's luxury spending habits, per NPR.

What they're saying: Manafort's team has argued, among other things, that an investigation into his possible financial crimes exceeds the scope of Mueller's authority as special counsel. The judge overseeing the trial ultimately decided that Mueller was within scope because he had "followed the money paid by pro-Russian officials,” but had this to say to prosecutors, per the NYTimes:

"You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud. You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump or lead to his prosecution or impeachment or whatever.”
— Judge T.S. Ellis III

The big picture: Manafort is 69 and faces the very real possibility of life in prison if he's convicted, and yet he has refused to plead guilty or cooperate with the special counsel. In June, President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani did not rule out the possibility of issuing a pardon for Manafort once the investigation was over. Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, recently told Vox that Manafort basically only has two real options at this point: prison or pardon.

"The man is facing charges in two different jurisdictions, a variety of federal charges carrying very substantial penalties, but for whatever reason, he has decided not to plead guilty, not to flip. My speculation would be that’s because he’s hoping for a pardon or expecting a pardon, and if you’re expecting a pardon at the end, there’s no real downside in going to trial, as long as you feel confident you’ll get a pardon eventually."

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

Over 3,000 detained in protests across Russia demanding Navalny's release

Russian police officers beat protestesters at a rally against of jailing of oppositon leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow on Saturday. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Police in Russia on Saturday arrested more than 3,300 people as protesters nationwide demanded that opposition leader Alexey Navalny be released from jail.

Details: Demonstrations began in the eastern regions of Russia and spread west to more than 60 cities.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain and GOP governor

Combination images of Cindy McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic for U.S.VETS/Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Arizona Republican Party members voted on Saturday to censure prominent GOP figures Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who've all faced clashes with former President Trump.

Why it matters: Although the resolution is symbolic, this move plus the re-election of the Trump-endorsed Kelli Ward as state GOP chair shows the strong hold the former president has on the party in Arizona, despite President Biden winning the state in the 2020 election.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Education: Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong puts tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge — Pfizer to supply 40 million vaccine doses to lower-income countries — Brazil begins distributing AstraZeneca vaccine.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

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