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Manafort littered his money trail with lies to flout the law, prosecutors say in closing pitch to jury

Closing arguments occurred Wednesday in the federal fraud trial of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman.
by Dartunorro Clark, Charlie Gile and Michelle Dubert /
Image: Paul Manafort exits the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington
Paul Manafort exits the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington on Feb. 28, 2018.Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

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The jury will begin deliberating the fate of Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman who is on trial for bank and tax fraud, Thursday morning, Judge T.S. Ellis announced Wednesday.

The jury was dismissed Wednesday evening after nearly two hours of instruction from the judge, who reminded them that the defense was not obligated to prove anything and told them that they should acquit Manafort "if the evidence leaves you with a reasonable doubt."

In closing arguments earlier in the day, prosecutors said Manafort had lied for years about his taxable income, while Manafort's attorneys sought to paint him as a talented political consultant who had served several elected officials, including Trump, while pinning the blame for any wrongdoing on Rick Gates, Manafort’s former protégé and the key witness against him.

In their closing argument, prosecutors told the jury that Manafort lied to hide the full extent of his wealth from U.S. tax authorities and lied some more to obtain loans that would continue to fund his luxurious lifestyle.

"Mr. Manafort lied when he had money and lied to get more money when he didn't," prosecutor Greg Andres told the jury at the start of his two-hour closing argument. "This is a case about lies."

Andres, part of special counsel Robert Mueller's legal team, went on to argue that Manafort, 69, perpetrated two schemes: keeping income in offshore accounts to hide it from the U.S. government and lying on bank applications to get loans that he couldn't qualify for.

Manafort is facing 18 charges of tax and banking fraud, and has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The charges do not involve Manafort's brief time as Trump's campaign chairman in 2016, and while it is the first case brought by Mueller to go before a jury, it does not involve Russian interference in the 2016 election or possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort's money, it is littered with lies,” Andres said Wednesday, later adding that the government took no issue with Manafort's wealth, or his penchant for $15,000 ostrich jackets.

"It's not a crime to be wealthy, and it's not a crime to have nice things," Andres said, but "we're in this courtroom because he failed to report" millions of dollars in taxable income, willfully breaking the law.

He added the evidence against Manafort is "overwhelming," and asked the jury to return the "only verdict that is consistent with the evidence" — a verdict of guilty.

The defense argued that Manafort is innocent — and what's more, that the government failed to meet its burden of proof that Manafort is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Manafort's attorneys also sought to paint Gates, the prosecution's star witness, Manafort's former business partner and an ex-Trump aide, as the real criminal who took advantage of his boss's trust.

Manafort attorney Richard Westling said that their side is not bound by the same burden of proof as the prosecution, which is why they made the decision not to enter any evidence.

"Your job is to ensure the burden is met," he told the jury, comprised of six men and six women. The judge dismissed four alternates Wednesday evening, leaving the 12 main jurors behind.

Westling also discussed Manafort’s reputation as a talented political consultant who "endeavored to serve," working for the campaigns of former presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and managing the Republican National Convention for presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1996 as well as chairing Trump's 2016 campaign.

Kevin Downing, Manafort's lead attorney who split closing argument duties with Westling, went after Gates’s credibility, saying he was the steward of Manafort's foreign accounts and therefore responsible for filing foreign bank account forms and for the false information provided to accountants.

“He is the one who had the signing authority,” Downing said, adding that Manafort trusted Gates so much that he gave him the keys to his financials. “What a mistake that was.”

Gates, who struck a plea deal with prosecutors, testified that he helped Manafort commit crimes, admitted that he falsified documents at Manafort's direction and even embezzled money from Manafort. He was also forced to admit to an extramarital affair when cross-examined by Manafort's defense team.

In an effort to blunt the defense's forthcoming closing arguments, Andres told the jury in his closing argument on Wednesday that there was more than sufficient evidence of Manafort’s crimes without Gates’s testimony.

Over the course of the 12-day trial in Alexandria, Virginia — the first of two Manafort faces — the prosecution called a variety of witnesses, including accountants, business partners and bank executives, to help make its case that Manafort concealed more than $16 million that he was paid for political consulting work in Ukraine from the IRS, then lied to potential lenders when he needed more money.

Andres said he’s not asking the jury “to take Rick Gates’s statements and testimony at face value.” He advised them to “test it, and verify it,” and see if it is consistent with the testimony of other witnesses and documents that witnesses testified to.

Andres said the defense told the jury that Gates was caught "with his hand in the cookie jar."

"It wasn't a cookie jar," Andres said. "It was a huge dumpster of foreign money."

Downing, however, told the jury the Gates they saw was the one the government wanted them to see: a “clean shaven, decent person.”

But he “fell apart,” Downing said, and “showed himself to be the liar that he is,” pointing to Gates’s hesitance to use the word “embezzle” during cross-examination.

He said the special counsel was so “desperate," they cut a deal with Gates. He added the plea shows the government is “happy with the understanding” that for “all the frauds, he gets to walk out on probation.”

Closing out his argument, Downing said, “The government hasn’t met its burden beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul Manafort knowingly and wittingly” committed these offenses.

The government, however, said the attack on Gates was just the defense trying to muddy the waters of the case.

"The defense is asking you to ignore your common sense," Andres said in a brief, 15-minute rebuttal to the defense's argument. He again asked that the jury find Manafort guilty on all counts.

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