The trial of Donald Trump's ex-election campaign chief is set to begin, the first to emerge from an inquiry into Russian meddling in the vote.
Despite a focus on financial crimes, the trial could yield politically damaging headlines about a man who ran Trump's campaign for three months and attended a June 2016 meeting with Russians offering damaging information on Trump's Democratic rival Hillary Clinton that is now a focal point of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 14-month-old investigation.
Prosecutors are expected to argue that Manafort's lavish spending on suits, homes and luxury items did not match the income declared on his tax returns and that he misled lenders when he borrowed tens of millions of dollars against NY real estate.
It comes as the President continues to rail against Mueller's investigation, calling it a "witch hunt", and some congressional Republicans are looking to impeach the Justice Department official overseeing the Muller probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for Trump, said no one facing trial should expect a pardon, but he did not rule one out.
"This wasn't inherited by his rich uncle who dies in Ukraine or whatever", Akerman said. "They are more anxious about protecting the trial from having a mistrial or having it overturned on appeal than provoking a hold-out person over Trump", Wu theorized.
At a recent hearing, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who will preside over the trial, warned prosecutors to restrain themselves, noting the current "antipathy" toward Russia and how "most people in this country don't distinguish between Ukrainians and Russians". Manafort has pleaded not guilty. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His longtime business partner Rick Gates faces numerous same charges.
"We have once again reached the point in time where we should cast aside all U.S. political work in favor of everyone's most beloved country - Ukraine", Gates wrote in a 2014 email to some American political strategists. Manafort would eventually help Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of the Russia-aligned Party of Regions, win the presidency in 2010.
Manafort's defense team has filed a flurry of motions - to suppress evidence gathered from a Virginia storage unit, to challenge the mandate of the special counsel and to delay the trial - almost all of which it has lost so far.
Manafort was indicted along with Gates in Mueller's wide-ranging investigation, but he is the only American charged to opt for a trial instead of co-operating with the government.
Lawyers working for special counsel Robert Mueller plan to call witnesses they say demonstrate where Manafort spent his allegedly ill-gotten gains: custom-made suits; Persian rugs; landscaping fees; Land Rovers and Mercedes-Benz vehicles; and season tickets to the New York Yankees, among other items. That fact could compel someone previously or now close to the president who knows of any illegal activity to come clean or act as a co-operating witness if they have information relevant to Mueller's Russian Federation probe.
Gates pleaded guilty in February to charges of conspiring against the USA and of making false statements to the federal government. Mueller ramped up the pressure with additional charges against Manafort and Gates, in Virginia, on Feb 22.
Seven prosecutors from Mueller's office were expected to feature prominently in the trial, including veteran government attorneys Andrew Weissmann and Greg Andres, who returned to the government from private practice to work on Mueller's probe.