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Defense rests in Paul Manafort fraud trial after calling no witnesses

The former Trump campaign chairman has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
by Adam Edelman, Charlie Gile and Dartunorro Clark /  / Updated 
Image: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort
The judge in the trial has sent the jury into deliberations.Shawn Thew / EPA

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Defense attorneys for Paul Manafort — President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, who is facing tax evasion, bank fraud and money laundering charges — rested their case Tuesday, after calling no witnesses.

Earlier Tuesday, Judge T.S. Ellis heard arguments in the defense's motion for acquittal, which he denied. Closing arguments are set to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET Wednesday.

Manafort is accused of failing to report millions of dollars that he was paid for political consulting work in Ukraine, before he briefly served as Trump's campaign chairman in 2016, and lying to obtain loans to keep his cash flow going. The charges do not involve Manafort's time with Trump.

Manafort is facing 18 charges of tax and banking fraud. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Manafort spoke in court in Alexandria, Va. Tuesday for the first time, after Ellis called him to the podium to make sure that he understood his right to testify if he wanted.

Ellis asked Manafort if he understood that he made his decision whether or not to testify. "I have decided, your honor," Manafort said. Ellis then asked if he wanted to testify.

"No, sir," Manafort said.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team rested its case against Manafort on Monday. Prosecutors allege that between 2010 and 2014, Manafort hid more than $16 million from the IRS and spent it on luxury items, including home improvements, antiques, fancy suits and even a $15,000 ostrich jacket.

Prosecutors called a variety of witnesses to testify, including accountants, business partners and bank executives to make its case that Manafort failed to report millions, then lied to potential lenders about his income when he needed more money.

During the course of the trial, Manafort's defense team looked to question the strength of the government's evidence and the credibility of its witnesses, particularly its star witness Rick Gates, who was Manafort's former business partner and ex-Trump aide.

Kevin Downing, Manafort's defense lawyer, hammered at Gates’s credibility during cross-examination last week, particularly on the terms of his plea deal with the government to testify against Manafort and conversations with the special counsel in which he had provided a false statement.

“When did you first start providing false and misleading information to the special counsel?” Downing asked.

“I didn’t provide false and misleading information,” Gates answered, adding that there were previous “instances where I struggled” to recall facts, and said he had a “bad memory.”

"Just a bad recollection?" Downing asked. “To some extent, yes,” said Gates.

“Your honor, I provided false information to the special counsel,” Gates told Judge T.S. Ellis.

Downing also hammered away at Gates's admitted practice of filing doctored expense reports, which Gates said he did to embezzle "hundreds of thousands of dollars" from Manafort.

During cross-examination, Downing also asked about "the secret life of Rick Gates," inquiring whether Gates had kept an apartment in London and if he had engaged in an extramarital relationship there.

"I admitted to a previous relationship," Gates said, adding that he maintained a flat for about two months. The affair occurred about 10 years ago.

Downing again went after Gates's credibility during his cross-examination last week of Cindy Laporta, who was Manafort's accountant on his 2014 and 2015 tax returns.

"Had you known that Rick Gates was embezzling from Mr. Manafort, would you trust anything he says?" Downing asked Laporta, who has been granted immunity. Laporta testified that she had helped Gates falsify tax and bank documents, including discussions to falsify a loan document at Gates's direction so that Manafort could afford to pay his 2014 income taxes.

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