Showdown in Virginia: Manafort fraud trial set to kick off in first Mueller probe prosecution

A Mercedes-Benz and multiple Range Rovers. A $3 million brownstone in Brooklyn, bought with cash. More than $1 million worth of clothes purchased at elite boutiques on both coasts, and an almost $940,000 tab over two years at an antique rug store in Alexandria, Va.

Those lavish expenditures are now evidence in the high-stakes bank and tax fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, which is set to begin with jury selection Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The trial is the first arising from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. It represents a major test not just for Manafort, who faces decades in prison on bank and tax fraud charges if convicted, but also for Mueller, whose ongoing probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election could lose credibility if jurors ultimately acquit Manafort. 

President Trump repeatedly has called the Mueller probe a "witch hunt," and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has suggested the investigation is "rigged."

Neither the Virginia trial nor Manafort's separate upcoming trial in Washington, D.C., directly relates to any alleged collusion between Trump officials and the Russian government, or purported Russian disinformation campaigns -- a fact that led to a tense courtroom showdown just months ago.

The judge in the case, T.S. Ellis III, harshly rebuked members of Mueller's team in a preliminary hearing in May, saying they were pursuing the case against the 69-year-old ex-Trump adviser only as a means to target the president.

"You don't really care about Mr. Manafort," Ellis told prosecutors. "You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you to lead you to Mr. Trump and an impeachment, or whatever."

Prosecutor Greg Andres flatly told the judge: "I don’t anticipate that a government witness will utter the word 'Russia.'"

WATCH: DERSHOWITZ SAYS MUELLER HOPING MANAFORT WILL TESTIFY AGAINST TRUMP RATHER THAN 'DIE IN PRISON'

But Ellis ultimately allowed the case to proceed, saying the prosecution fell within Mueller's broad authority to investigate Russian involvement in U.S. politics.

The trial, which is expected to last about three weeks, centers on accusations that Manafort intentionally hid millions of dollars he earned from the Ukrainian government and oligarchs to lobby on behalf of since-deposed pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych.

Little is known yet about the defense's strategy. But prosecutors say they will show that Manafort failed to report a "significant percentage" of the nearly $60 million in income from his Ukraine work on his tax returns, and did not properly indicate that he maintained bank accounts in foreign countries.

They also alleged that Manafort committed bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy in several instances. In one case, prosecutors claimed, Manafort falsely told Rhode Island-based Citizens Bank on a loan application that a condominium he used as security for a $3.4 million loan was not being used as a rental property.

In another instance, Mueller's team alleged, Manafort and former Trump aide Rick Gates lied to Chicago-based Federal Savings Bank by providing false profit and loss statements to obtain nearly $16 million in loans.

Gates, Manafort's former business partner, pleaded guilty earlier this year in the probe and cut a deal with prosecutors. He is one of 35 witnesses that the Mueller team said it may call during the trial, alongside ex-Manafort aide Alex Trusko and ex-chief Bernie Sanders strategist Tad Devine, who also did work for Yanukovych.

Other witnesses Mueller has signaled may testify include those with information about Manafort's allegedly lavish spending habits: an employee at a car dealership where Manafort's wife bought a high-end Mercedes, a New York Yankees season ticket salesperson, and an employee at a clothing boutique where Manafort reportedly splurged on suits worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Five potential witnesses were offered and granted immunity in the case, including former Manafort accountants.

WHO ARE THE 35 WITNESSES MUELLER IS PLANNING TO CALL IN THE HIGH-STAKES MANAFORT TRIAL?

Although prosecutors have agreed not to bring up any alleged Russian collusion or meddling in the trial, they are expected to argue that Manfort's campaign work is inextricably linked to some of his alleged crimes, according to court filings.

In one instance, prosecutors claimed, a senior unnamed banking executive "interceded" to approve an allegedly deficient multimillion-dollar loan application by Manafort, because that executive was seeking a role in the Trump administration. The executive never assumed a position in the White House.

"You don't really care about Mr. Manafort."

- U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, to Mueller prosecutors

"[I]t would be difficult for the jury to understand why the loans were approved without understanding that the lender approved the loans, in spite of the identified deficiencies, because the senior executive factored in his own personal ambition," prosecutors wrote in a filing.

Separate court filings have suggested prosecutors could argue that Manafort sought to conceal some of his Russia-linked spending to avoid political damage during Trump's run for president, as a way to establish motive for some of his alleged deceptions.

In addition to Manafort and Gates, two other former Trump associates have been charged in the Mueller probe: ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn and aide George Papadopoulos – though none of the charges are directly related to any misconduct by the president's campaign.

Alex van der Zwaan, an attorney, pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators during the investigation, and was sentenced to 30 days in prison in April 2018. He was the first to be sentenced in the probe. 

Manafort has been held in solitary confinement for alleged witness tampering by the judge in his pending D.C. trial, Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Manafort's attorneys have said his confinement has been unnecessary and unduly harsh, and has impeded his ability to communicate with his defense team.

Observers have questioned whether President Trump will pardon Manafort if he is convicted. Trump has said he feels "badly" about Manafort's situation, and that he considers it unfair that he has been ensnared by Mueller's probe.

Fox News' Jake Gibson contributed to this report.

Gregg Re is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @gregg_re.