The criminal trial against former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortManafort accountant testifies she helped falsify tax records The Hill’s Morning Report: Trump tries to rescue Ohio House seat as GOP midterm fears grow Exclusive: Bannon blasts ‘con artist’ Kochs, ‘lame duck’ Ryan, ‘diminished’ Kelly MORE is moving at breakneck speed, compared with most federal court proceedings, with prosecutors calling more than a dozen witnesses to the stand since the case got underway on Tuesday.
Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s team of attorneys has been presenting evidence as they attempt to prove to jurors that Manafort concealed from the IRS money he received while working as a lobbyist and political consultant for pro-Russia Ukrainian officials, and that he committed bank fraud when those funds dried up.
Manafort’s attorneys, meanwhile, made clear in their opening statement that they’ll be focusing on Richard Gates, the longtime business associate of Manafort who they say was the one in charge of financial record-keeping.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud, which include failing to report overseas accounts and falsifying documents to obtain bank loans. Prosecutors have said they could rest their case as early as next week, and the trial is expected to last about three weeks.
Here are five things you need to know about the trial.
Prosecutors are making a big deal out of Manafort’s lavish spending
A $15,000 ostrich jacket, an $18,500 python jacket, a $9,500 ostrich vest, possibly to match the jacket, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in landscaping are just a few of the items and services cited by government attorneys to show how Manafort lived large on money he allegedly hid overseas.
In addition to invoices, bank statements and photographs, prosecutors called witnesses to help make their case. Among those witnesses was the former manager of a luxury men’s clothing store in New York City, who said payments for Manafort’s clothing came by way of wire transfers from accounts based in Cyprus.
But Judge T.S. Ellis has been tough on prosecutors, clamping down on how much courtroom time can be spent on detailing Manafort’s spending habits.
“The government doesn’t want to prosecute someone because they wear nice clothes do they?” he asked on the second day of the trial.
Ellis has also pushed prosecutors to get to the point and show how Manafort’s purchases are tied to money he allegedly failed to pay taxes on.
78-year-old judge has made a big impression
Ellis, a federal judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, quickly established himself as a forceful and colorful presence in the courtroom.
A mantra of his when speaking to attorneys is: Let’s move on. And that’s apropos for the courthouse, which is often referred to as having a “rocket docket” because of how quickly it moves through cases. And Manafort’s is no exception.
Legal observers said they never expected the court to finish both jury selection and opening statements on the first day of the trial.
At one point, Ellis had another message for attorneys, telling them to “rein in their facial expressions.” He said he was told several of them had been seen rolling their eyes when he was leaving the bench, and that doing so made it seem like they were thinking, “Why do we have to deal with this idiot judge.”
But that stern nature is offset at times with his humorous side.
When prosecutors were naming the brands of Manafort’s high-end suits, Ellis said he couldn’t recognize the names.
“If it doesn’t say Men’s Wearhouse, I don’t know it,” he said, according to The Washington Post.
Some experts say comments like those and Ellis’s strong personality could have a big impact on the jury of six men and six women.
Shan Wu, who represented Gates before he pleaded guilty, said Ellis’s comments undercut the prosecution and make it look like the government is trying to overplay Manafort’s luxury lifestyle.
“Humor, generally, is not a great thing for the prosecution,” said Wu, a former federal prosecutor. “You want the jury to be super serious, but it’s good for the defense if you can get the jury to laugh about the evidence the government is putting on. They’re trying to make it look less like the crime of the century.”
Ellis has also shown a softer side when interacting with jurors. He’s joked with them about the free lunch and soft drinks they get during breaks, and he allowed them to bring in a cake on Friday, presumably to celebrate a juror’s birthday.
Gates’s testimony promises to be high drama
The big question hanging over the weekend is when prosecutors will call their star witness, Manafort’s former business associate, to the witness stand.
Gates, a former Trump campaign adviser, pleaded guilty in February as part of plea deal with Mueller on charges of conspiracy against the U.S. and making a false statement to the FBI. There was a period of uncertainty earlier this week as to whether he would be called to testify, but prosecutors have since said they have every intention to question him, according to multiple media reports.
Manafort’s attorneys have based their defense on Gates, claiming he was the one in charge of Manafort’s finances. But a bookkeeper testified this week that Manafort “approved every penny,” The Washington Post reported.
The defense is likely to come down hard on Gates in their cross-examination. That exchange is expected to be one of the highlights of the trial.
Mystery if Manafort will take the stand
It’s still unclear whether Manafort will testify on his own behalf. Experts say taking the stand is a risky move.
Joshua Dressler, a law professor at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, said defense attorneys usually try to avoid putting their client on the stand. In most cases, he said defendants aren’t particularly articulate or likely to help their case.
Even though Manafort is no ordinary client, Dressler said it would be a gamble to put him in the witness box.
“From a distance, there’s a sense of arrogance on his part that might not go over well with a jury,” Dressler said. “I think what the defense has to decide is how well the case, in their view, has gone before they get to this crucial decision.”
He said the defense is likely to call Manafort if they think they’ve lost, but keep him from testifying if a guilty verdict is not an absolute.
If he doesn’t testify, Dressler said, the average juror is likely to wonder why.
“That’s the catch-22,” he said.
Trump criticizes Mueller after trial begins
After the trial began, President TrumpDonald John TrumpUN report: North Korea has not stopped nuclear, missile programs NYT columnist Bret Stephens warns of attacks on media: ‘Blood on the president’s hands’ Top Koch official fires back at critics: We are not an ‘appendage’ of the GOP MORE took to his favorite medium to attack Mueller, who hasn’t been spotted in the courtroom, by saying on Twitter that Manafort is being treated worse than Al Capone.
“Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and ‘Public Enemy Number One,’ or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement – although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russian Collusion?” he tweeted.
The jury is not being sequestered during the trial, though Ellis has repeatedly told jurors not to do any research on their own or speak with friends and family about the case.
But it’s not Trump’s tweets that worries some legal experts.
“If there is a core Trump supporter on there, I think the presumption of innocence is going to be quadrupled in that person’s mind,” Dressler said, referring to the jury. “It’s going to be very hard to convince them to vote on the side of the prosecutor, and thus creating the possibility of a hung jury on any of the crucial counts.”
Published at Sat, 04 Aug 2018 10:00:07 +0000