- The Washington Times
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A federal prosecutor Wednesday said former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s luxurious lifestyle was built on lies as the first case to emerge from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation heads to a jury.

During closing arguments, prosecutor Greg Andres pressed jurors to find Mr. Manafort guilty based on emails and financial documents that he said “were littered with lies.”

Manafort attorneys, meanwhile, delivered a scathing attack on the special counsel’s office, accusing Mr. Mueller’s team of “selective prosecution” and implying the case is a politically motivated effort to ensnare President Trump.

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Attorneys finished their closing arguments near the end of the day. Judge T.S. Ellis III used the remaining time for jury instruction.

Jurors will likely begin deliberation Thursday morning.

At stake in the jury’s decision is the public’s perception of the Russia investigation and, possibly, Mr. Trump. Democrats are banking on the conviction of a top Trump campaign figure to encourage Mr. Mueller to keep pressing forward. If Mr. Manafort walks, Mr. Trump and his allies will quickly demand an end to the investigation.

The government has charged Mr. Manafort with 18 counts of bank and tax fraud, although the purported crimes happened before he helmed Mr. Trump’s campaign.

For nearly two hours, Mr. Andres methodically walked jurors through witness testimony, financial documents and emails from Mr. Manafort himself. Those records, he said, told a story of how Mr. Manafort lied to the IRS and hid income he earned as a political consultant in Ukraine by stashing as much $60 million in 31 overseas accounts in Cyprus and elsewhere.

That money was transferred to accounts in the U.S. so Mr. Manafort could purchase luxury cars and upscale men’s clothing, prosecutors said.

But when his top client, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, was removed from power, Mr. Manafort turned to bank fraud by applying for mortgages to support his lavish lifestyle, Mr. Andres argued.

Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn’t,” Mr. Andres said.

The prosecutor said Mr. Manafort’s tax returns from 2010 through 2014 were false because they didn’t list his foreign bank accounts. He highlighted an email in which Mr. Manafort referred to one of the foreign accounts as “my account.” Mr. Andres said that email was written “when no one was looking.”

“He did not know one day he would be sitting in this very courtroom,” Mr. Andres said of the email.

Manafort attorney Richard Westling took aim at the special counsel in his closing arguments. He said the banks never reported the purported fraud “until the special counsel showed up and started asking questions.” He accused the Mueller team of selectively pulling Mr. Manafort’s financial records to “concoct a narrative.”

He accused prosecutors of exaggerating their accusation that Mr. Manafort provided the wrong financial information to a bank. Mr. Westling painted the act as a relatively trivial mistake and said the Mueller team blew it out of proportion to make their case. People who provide inaccurate financial documents to the bank “don’t get prosecuted by Department of Justice prosecutors,” he said.

“If this were fraud, we would have courts across the country filled,” Mr. Westling said.

Attorneys for both sides spent much of their time discussing the testimony of Rick Gates, a former Manafort business associate who would also later hold prominent positions on the Trump team. Mr. Gates testified in court last week that he committed bank fraud at the direction of Mr. Manafort. But he also admitted to embezzling money from Mr. Manafort and having an extramarital affair.

Mr. Andres sought to distance himself from Mr. Gates’ testimony, noting that it is only one part of a puzzle that includes financial documents and testimony from 10 other witnesses, including Mr. Manafort’s bookkeeper and accountant.

“The star witness in this case is the documents,” he said.

Focusing on Mr. Gates’ admitted indiscretions, Mr. Andres acknowledged to jurors that Mr. Manafort “didn’t choose a Boy Scout” precisely because he sought to carry out crimes. He also pointed out that Mr. Manafort’s attorneys focused on a decades-old affair by Mr. Gates, avoiding direct questions about the role he played in the bank fraud accusations.

“And what about Gates’ admitted affair? Was it to distract you? Does it matter?” Mr. Andres asked the jury. “I’m not asking you to like him.”

But Mr. Downing said that misconduct is exactly why jurors can’t trust his testimony. He said Mr. Gates received a deal because the government “was so desperate to make the case.” Mr. Manafort trusted him, he said, by giving him signature authority over his overseas bank accounts, resulting in the theft of “a few million” from his former boss.

“To the very end, he lied to you,” Mr. Downing told jurors.

Cindy Laporta, a Manafort accountant, testified last week that she had concerns about financial documents submitted by Mr. Gates on behalf of his mentor.

She said she didn’t trust Mr. Gates but never called Mr. Manafort to express her concerns because she was afraid of offending one of her firm’s top clients. Mr. Downing emphasized her testimony during his closing argument, noting that had she alerted Mr. Manafort, they may have caught Mr. Gates’ embezzlement.

“If the accountants had picked up the phone, maybe none of us would be here right now,” Mr. Downing said.

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