The defense in former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s tax and fraud trial has rested its case without calling any witnesses. AP’s Chad Day explains. (Aug. 14)
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal jury has found Paul Manafort guilty on eight of 18 counts in the financial fraud trial of a man who just two years ago helped President Donald Trump secure the Republican nomination for the White House.
The jury sent a note to U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III Tuesday afternoon saying jurors could not reach consensus on the other 10 of the counts.
Though the Manafort prosecution is not related to Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling, the case has been seen as an important initial test for Mueller whose legitimacy has been repeatedly questioned by Trump and his Republican allies.
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors painted Manafort as a liar in pursuit of a lavish lifestyle that was fueled by millions of dollars in unreported income stashed in foreign bank accounts and fraudulently obtained bank loans.
More than two dozen witnesses were called to testify and nearly 400 government exhibits were submitted by prosecutors during 10 days of testimony.
In their final appeal to the jury of six men and six women on Wednesday, prosecutors guided panelists through hours of government testimony, highlighting the alleged tax and loan fraud, the foundation of 18 criminal counts lodged against Manafort.
“Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it,” prosecutor Greg Andres said in the government’s closing argument Wednesday. “And he lied to get more money when he didn’t.”
Manafort’s attorneys, meanwhile, took direct aim at the government’s star witness, Rick Gates, who served as a trusted business partner to Manafort for a decade.
Gates, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiracy and lying to the FBI as part of a deal to offer evidence against his former associate, acknowledged during hours of testimony that he embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort.
Defense attorneys also told jurors that it was Gates – not Manafort – who had complete access to his to the foreign bank accounts, which took in $60 million from their political consulting work for Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine.
Last Tuesday, Manfort declined to testify on his own behalf and his lawyers told a federal judge that they would offer no witnesses for the defense. Manafort attorney Kevin Downing later told reporters that the defense made the move because the government had “not met its burden of proof” in the financial fraud case.
Early in the case, prosecutors elicited testimony from custom clothiers, construction contractors, landscape designers, a realtor and a luxury car dealer who outlined Manafort’s prodigious spending habits, much of it supported by more than $15 million in unreported income that allegedly moved to the U.S. through offshore accounts in Cyprus, the Grenadines and the United Kingdom.
When they submitted bills to Manafort, the vendors said that cash – routed to them on wire transfers from unfamiliar international entities – ultimately landed in their accounts.
Bills for suits, sport jackets, shirts, an ostrich jacket and other attire amounted to about $1 million.
The trial attracted packed galleries to the federal courthouse each day, including for closing arguments, where a line to get inside wrapped around the block.
Those crowds and the rows of cameras outside the Albert V. Bryan Courthouse were the result of the looming shadow of both Trump’s connection to Manafort and his harsh criticism of the Russia investigation.
The fate of the case will no doubt have meaning for Trump, who has long sought to undermine the legitimacy of Mueller’s inquiry.
“This case is incredibly important to the integrity of the special counsel’s investigation going forward,” said Jimmy Gurule, a University of Notre Dame law professor and former federal prosecutor. “The focus of the Manafort trial may not be about Trump or whether the president sought to obstruct Mueller’s Russia investigation, but it speaks to the overall credibility of the Russia investigation.”
The verdict here does not mark the end of Manafort’s legal troubles.
The 69-year-old longtime Republican operative faces a second trial next month in the District of Columbia on related charges of money laundering.
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