Manafort Lawyers Rest Without Calling Witnesses in Fraud Trial

Lawyers for Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, rested without presenting a defense in his trial on fraud charges.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Paul Manafort’s lawyers declined Tuesday to call any witnesses to defend him against charges of bank and tax fraud. Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, also told the judge that he did not want to testify, clearing the way for closing arguments from both sides and the start of jury deliberations on Wednesday.

The decision by the defense to rest without presenting its own evidence was not unusual. “The defense believes it has made its point through cross-examination,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor and a former federal judge.

Mr. Manafort is letting the case go to the jury because he and his lawyers “do not believe that the government has met its burden of proof,” said Kevin Downing, the lead defense lawyer in the case.

Earlier on Tuesday, Judge T. S. Ellis III of the United States District Court in Alexandria also denied a motion by Mr. Manafort’s lawyers to acquit him on all 18 charges without giving the case to the jury, another standard defense tactic as trials wind down. He closed the courtroom for more than two hours to discuss another defense motion that has been sealed, along with the government’s response.

Prosecutors for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, rested their case Monday after calling roughly two dozen witnesses and introducing hundreds of exhibits. Mr. Manafort, 69, is accused of evading taxes on roughly $16.5 million in income that he earned working for pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine. When that income ran out, prosecutors claim, he fraudulently obtained more than $20 million in bank loans so he could maintain an extravagant lifestyle.

Defense lawyers made a special effort, including submitting a last-minute brief, to persuade the judge to throw out four bank fraud charges involving $16 million in loans that Mr. Manafort obtained from a small Chicago bank in late 2016 and early 2017. Richard Westling, one of Mr. Manafort’s lawyers, argued that the bank, Federal Savings Bank, was not defrauded because its chairman, Stephen M. Calk, was determined to do business with Mr. Manafort, despite questions about Mr. Manafort’s wherewithal. He also argued that bank officials were well aware of Mr. Manafort’s true financial situation.

Emails cited by the prosecution showed that Mr. Manafort was trading heavily on his connection to the Trump campaign in seeking those loans, one of which he used to prevent another creditor from foreclosing on one of his homes. In August 2016, before he was forced out of his position as campaign chairman, Mr. Manafort arranged to add Mr. Calk to Mr. Trump’s economic advisory committee. In November, just days after the election, Mr. Calk sent Mr. Manafort a long list of top administration jobs for which he wanted to be considered.

Mr. Manafort then emailed Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, recommending Mr. Calk as someone who would “be totally reliable” and would “advance D.T. agenda,” referring to the president-elect. Mr. Calk’s “preference is secretary of the Army,” he wrote. In the next two months, Mr. Calk overruled his underlings and granted Mr. Manafort more money than any other of the bank’s borrowers had obtained, bank officials testified.

Mr. Westling argued that the bank was not victimized because it would have approved Mr. Manafort’s loans “regardless of the information” he had submitted. But the judge ruled that was a question for the jury to decide, not him.

While the Trump campaign was not a focus of the trial, references to it have popped up repeatedly since the jury was seated 11 days ago. Defense lawyers have acknowledged that Mr. Manafort had no income in 2016 when he was hired by the campaign. Rick Gates, Mr. Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman and director of his inaugural committee, testified that it was “possible” that he had embezzled some of the inaugural funds.

The government case turns in part on the credibility of Mr. Gates, Mr. Manafort’s onetime trusted aide, who has pleaded guilty to two felony charges and is hoping his cooperation will keep him out of prison. On the stand, Mr. Gates, recounted how he helped Mr. Manafort hide his income in foreign bank accounts and trick banks into extending him loans that he was not qualified to receive.

Mr. Manafort’s lawyers had assailed Mr. Gates as a liar, an adulterer and a thief who had committed all the crimes that Mr. Manafort was accused of, and more. On the stand, Mr. Gates admitted to a host of offenses, including stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mr. Manafort’s bank accounts and concealing $3 million of his own income from tax authorities. While he appeared confident when prosecutors questioned him about Mr. Manafort’s criminal activity, he grew less sure when defense lawyers confronted him with questions about his own misdeeds.

Asked about how he embezzled funds by filing false expense reports, for example, Mr. Gates replied at one point: “It wasn’t a scheme. I just added numbers to the reports.”

The trial, the first for Mr. Mueller’s office, did not relate to the Trump campaign or Russia’s campaign of interference in 2016 presidential election, but Judge Ellis had ruled that Mr. Mueller’s mandate was broad enough for him to pursue the case.

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