Manafort trial moves to defence as prosecutors wrap up

Aaron Brown
August 17, 2018

US prosecutors on Monday rested their case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort after 10 days of testimony detailing how he avoided taxes on at least $16 million of income and lied to banks to maintain an extravagant lifestyle once his work for pro-Kremlin politicians in Ukraine dried up.

Shanlon Wu, who represented Gates before he pleaded guilty in February and started cooperating with Mueller's probe, said he expected the defence to rest its case and move on to closing arguments.

The arguments are scheduled for Wednesday morning.

The case against Manafort does not relate to any allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination with the Trump campaign, the main thrust of Mueller's investigation.

Trump has distanced himself from Manafort, who was chairman of the campaign from May to August 2016 - with Gates at his side.

The government says Manafort hid at least $16 million in income from the IRS between 2010 and 2014 by disguising income he earned advising politicians in Ukraine as loans and hiding it in foreign banks.

James Brennan, a vice president at Federal Savings Bank, says Manafort failed to disclose mortgages on his loan application.

Gates said he helped Manafort commit crimes in an effort to protect Manafort's finances. Defense lawyers say Gates is a liar trying to avoid jail time under his plea deal. Gates was also forced to admit embezzling a fortune from Manafort and having an extramarital affair.

But it's more surprising that the defense team did not present any evidence or call any witnesses, even people who could testify to Manafort's character.

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Asked by Ellis whether he wished to testify in his defense, Manafort responded: "No, sir". The admittedly impatient judge has pushed the government to speed up its case.

The prosecution depicted Manafort as using the millions of dollars hidden in offshore accounts to fund a luxurious lifestyle, and later obtaining millions more in bank loans under false pretenses.

One of Manafort's lawyers, Thomas Zehnle, said they plan to tell the jury that Manafort had no obligation to report foreign bank accounts in the years he owned only 50 percent of his firm, Davis Manafort International. He said he also found several "inconsistencies" in the amount of income Mr Manafort reported for his business.

Brennan said bank president Javier Ubarri made an initial decision to reject a $9.5 million loan on Manafort's Hamptons estate, but bank chief executive Steve Calk overruled it.

He said on the stand Monday he would never have given that rating if Calk hadn't pressured him.

Asked again why the loans were ultimately approved, Brennan said that Calk told bank employees in an email that he wanted the loans approved. He said they were the two largest loans the bank had made when they were issued in late 2016 and early 2017.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives for arraignment on a third superseding indictment against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of witness tampering, at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2018.

The judge is expected to decide Tuesday on whether to grant a defense motion to dismiss the case before the case goes to the jury - a frequent defense request that is rarely granted.

While the contents of the motion are unknown, the development comes after an unexplained delay in the trial and unusually detailed instructions by Ellis to the jurors on Friday, in which he pressed them not to talk to anyone about the case. He did so once, telling the jury last Thursday that he was "probably wrong" and to disregard his comments about a government witness.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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