Manafort's defense rests after calling no witnesses
By CHAD DAY, MATTHEW BARAKAT and MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Paul Manafort's defense rested its case Tuesday without calling any witnesses in the former Trump campaign chairman's tax evasion and fraud trial. Manafort himself chose not to testify.
The decision by Manafort's lawyer, Kevin Downing, not to call witnesses clears the way for the jury to hear closing arguments in the trial, now in its third week.
Manafort is accused of hiding millions of dollars in income he received advising Ukrainian politicians. The defense has tried to blame Manafort's financial mistakes on his former assistant, Richard Gates. Defense attorneys have called Gates a liar, philanderer and embezzler as they've sought to undermine his testimony.
Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Wednesday morning.
Asked by Judge T.S. Ellis III whether he wished to testify in his defense, Manafort responded: "No, sir." The decision came after a more than two-hour hearing that was closed from the public.
The judge has not given any explanation for the sealed proceeding, only noting that a transcript of it would become public after Manafort's case concludes.
Manafort's decision not to testify and not to call witnesses came after Ellis rejected a defense motion that the case should be dismissed on grounds the government failed to meet its burden of proof. Manafort's lawyers asked the judge to toss out all the charges against him, but they focused in particular on four bank-fraud charges.
The government says Manafort hid at least $16 million in income from the IRS between 2010 and 2014 by disguising the money he earned advising politicians in Ukraine as loans and hiding it in foreign banks. Then, after his money in Ukraine dried up, they allege he defrauded banks by lying about his income on loan applications and concealing other financial information, such as mortgages.
Manafort's lawyers argued that there is no way that one of the banks, Federal Savings Bank, could have been defrauded because its chairman, Stephen Calk, knew full well that Manafort's finances were in disarray but approved the loan to Manafort anyway. Witnesses testified at trial that Calk pushed the loans through because he wanted a post in the Trump administration.
Ellis, in making his ruling, said that the defense made a "significant" argument, but ultimately ruled the question "is an issue for the jury."
Prosecutors rested their case on Monday, closing two weeks of testimony that 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.
The trial is the first to emerge from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, but it does not relate to any allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination with the Trump campaign. Neither Manafort nor Gates have been charged in connection with their Trump campaign work.
Still, the proceedings have drawn President Donald Trump's attention — and tweets — as he works to undermine the standing of the Mueller investigation in the public square.
Trump has distanced himself from Manafort, who led the campaign from May to August 2016 — with Gates at his side. Gates struck a plea deal with prosecutors and provided much of the drama of the trial so far.
Gates said he helped Manafort commit crimes in an effort to lower his tax bill and fund his lavish lifestyle. During testimony, Gates was forced to admit embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort and conducting an extramarital affair.
The prosecution has introduced a trove of documentary evidence as they've sought to prove Manafort committed 18 separate criminal counts. Along the way, they've not only faced an aggressive defense team but tongue-lashings from the judge, who pushed the government to speed up its case.