- The Washington Times
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Defense attorneys for Paul Manafort rested their case Tuesday without calling any witnesses or presenting evidence, choosing instead to make their case in closing arguments set for Wednesday morning.

In those speeches, Mr. Manafort’s attorneys will attempt to convince jurors the government did not adequately prove the financial fraud charges against President Trump’s former campaign chairman.

Speaking to reporters during a court recess, Manafort attorney Kevin M. Downing explained his reasons for not offering any rebuttal to the prosecution’s 27 witnesses.

Mr. Manafort just rested his case, and he did so because he and his legal team believe that the government has not met its burden of proof,” he said.

The decision sets the stage for dramatic closing arguments. Once each side has presented its case, the jury will receive their instructions from Judge T.S. Ellis and then deliberate Mr. Manafort’s fate.

Prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team have accused Mr. Manafort of defrauding banks to obtain loans and using offshore accounts to hide income he earned in Ukraine from the IRS. It is the first trial to stem from Mr. Mueller’s probe into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, although the purported crimes happened before Mr. Manafort became its chairman.

When Mr. Downing announced the defense would rest, dozens of journalists scurried out of the courtroom, rushing to report the surprising announcement.

“Anyone else need to leave the courtroom?” Judge Ellis joked as a few more reporters ran out.

“Is that everyone?” he said, expressing his frustration over the courtroom disruption.

Mr. Manafort spoke in court for the first time Tuesday when Judge Ellis asked if he had decided whether he wanted to testify.

“I have decided,” Mr. Manafort replied. Judge Ellis then asked if he wanted to testify.

“No, sir,” Mr. Manafort said.

If Mr. Manafort were to testify, he would have faced cross-examination from prosecutors, pushing him on banking and other financial forms they characterized as fraudulent.

The Manafort team announced its decision to rest after Judge Ellis denied a request to have the bank fraud and other charges tossed on the purported grounds of the government failing even to present a face-value case — a much easier bar for prosecutors to clear than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required for a conviction.

In particular, the motion sought to throw out the four bank fraud counts related to Federal Savings Bank. Earlier in the trial, two witnesses testified that the bank’s chairman and CEO, Stephen Calk, pushed to approve a $16 million loan package to Mr. Manafort despite concerns about his credit and income.

Mr. Manafort’s legal team said Federal Savings Bank couldn’t have been defrauded because Mr. Calk was aware of the red flags on the loan application, but pressured executives to green light the mortgages.

“We believe there’s not been a showing of materiality … the evidence suggests that the bank did not rely on any representations made by Mr. Manafort in granting those loans,” said Manafort attorney Richard W. Westling in court Monday.

In denying the motion, Judge Ellis said the question of whether there was fraud should ultimately rest with the jury.

“The defendant makes a significant argument for materiality, but in the end materiality is an issue for the jury,” he said.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.