Manafort verdict strengthens Mueller’s hand for round two

It could be deja vu when Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDem warns Trump: 'Obstruction of justice' to fire Rosenstein Ex-White House official revises statement to Mueller after Flynn guilty plea: report Former White House lawyer sought to pay Manafort, Gates legal fees: report MORE suits up for his second court battle next month.

Legal experts say that federal prosecutors, fresh off a victory this past week in Virginia, stand a good chance of securing a second conviction in Washington, D.C., with more evidence and more damning charges against Trump’s former campaign chairman brought by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's legal team.

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Manafort is facing seven criminal charges, including conspiracy to launder money and failing to register as a foreign lobbyist in the trial slated to start Sept. 17.

He’s also accused of witness tampering, which observers say is unlikely to sit well with jurors.

“You can say you’ve been wrongly accused, but once you try to tamper with witnesses testifying against you, jurors are generally much more inclined to believe you’re guilty of the underlying crimes,” said Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor who worked with Mueller in the U.S. attorney's office in D.C. “Given the strength of the evidence together with the allegation of witness tampering, I expect we’ll see guilty verdicts in the D.C. case as well.”

Prosecutors have provided Manafort’s defense team with more than 1,000 pieces of evidence — almost three times the number of documents submitted in the Virginia trial that resulted in a guilty verdict on eight counts of bank and tax fraud.

But there are still challenges ahead for both sides.

Experts say the highly publicized Virginia trial will make it much harder for the defense to find an unbiased jury.

Though Trump tweeted his support for Manafort throughout the trial, D.C. is considered more liberal than Northern Virginia, where the first trial was held. Trump secured about 4 percent of the vote in D.C. in 2016.

Joel Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor who is now at partner at the law firm Stinson Leonard Street LLP in D.C., said the media and public scrutiny of the Virginia case carries risks for the government, too.

“With news out that everyone believes Manafort will be pardoned, jurors may have fatigue or think what’s the point?” he said.

Trump told Fox News reporter Ainsley Earhardt on Wednesday that he would consider a pardon for Manafort.

Experts say Manafort’s former business associate Richard Gates is also a cause for concern.

Gates was the government’s star witness in the Virginia trial, but he wasn’t viewed by the jury as credible, according to one juror who has spoken publicly about the deliberations.

“Some of us had a problem with accepting his testimony because he took the plea, so we agreed to throw out his testimony and look at the paperwork, which his name was all over,” Paula Duncan said in an interview with Fox News this week. “I think he would have done anything he could to preserve himself.”

Gates was charged with tax and bank fraud alongside Manafort, but pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his testimony against his former boss.

Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor who represented Gates before he took the plea deal, said prosecutors will have to weigh which charges require his testimony.

“No matter how weak they think his testimony was, I don’t think they have a choice as to whether to present him in D.C. or not,” he said, noting the defense would likely criticize the government if they didn’t put Gates on the stand in September.

But the upcoming trial will be noticeably different from its predecessor. Unlike the Virginia case, experts say the D.C. one will focus more on Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

“The public will learn what the campaign chairman was up to in the critical months before he was fired,” Kirschner said. “I think everyone is craving that information.”