Paul Manafort Case Goes To Jury After Closing Arguments By Prosecutors And Defense
Updated at 7:59 p.m. ET
Jurors are set to begin deliberations in the trial of Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort after prosecutors and defense attorneys delivered their closing arguments on Wednesday.
Prosecutors worked to paint Manafort, who faces 18 tax and bank fraud charges, as a man engulfed in a sea of financial lies.
Defense attorneys countered that the government has failed to make a case beyond a reasonable doubt that he broke the law.
With closing arguments complete, the case now lies in the hands of a jury of six men and six women. The jury is expected to return to the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., on Thursday morning to deliberate; it's unclear when it will emerge with a verdict.
Wednesday's final arguments were important for both sides.
Prosecutors sought to crystallize and simplify the sometimes complicated paper trail and witness testimony they've presented over the course of the trial. Defense attorneys, meanwhile, got an extended shot at poking holes in the government's case after declining to call any witnesses of their own.
The government went first. Prosecutor Greg Andres, who also led the direct examination of Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates, asked jurors to take detailed notes to review during their deliberations. But he also boiled Manafort's financial decisions down to a simple statement: He lied.
"When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort's money, it is littered with lies," Andres said.
"The star witness"
Andres split the charges into two time periods. Before 2014, Manafort was flush with cash and prosecutors say he used secret offshore bank accounts to evade taxes on what he earned.
After 2014, Manafort's income dried up when the politician for whom he consultedin Ukraine was ousted. So, prosecutors say, Manafort lied to banks to qualify for loans to sustain the lavish lifestyle to which he had grown accustomed.
"Mr. Manafort couldn't pay his bills," Andres said.
One of the defense's central arguments in the case — repeated again on Wednesday — is that Gates, Manafort's protégé, actually was the one behind any financial crimes.
Manafort's attorneys have said Manafort didn't pay close enough attention to his own accounts to have deliberately broken the law.
Andres sought to undercut that idea in his closing argument.
Prosecutors have shown the jury emails in which Manafort referred to bank accounts in Cyprus using the word "my," and an FBI forensic accountant testified that Manafort spent millions of dollars through international wire transfer, thereby avoiding the IRS.
All told, over the past three weeks, prosecutors called 27 witnesses, including bookkeepers, tax accountants, luxury menswear retailers, bankers and an IRS agent.
On Wednesday, however, Andres focused on the paper trail, not on Gates or the other people who appeared.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the star witness in this case is the documents," he said.
Defense attorney Kevin Downing, however, said prosecutors' case falls apart without Gates' testimony. Downing, as he had during cross-examination last week, talked about the millions of dollars that Gates has admitted to embezzling from Manafort and about Gates' admission of an extramarital affair.
"[Manafort] trusted [Gates] so much he gave him the keys to all the financials without any oversight," Downing said, before adding: "What a mistake that was ..."
On Wednesday, Andres told the jury those tactics were meant to distract them.
He posed a rhetorical question: Does the fact that Gates had an affair a decade ago make Manafort any less guilty? You don't have to like Gates, Andres told jurors, or believe every word he says, but look at the documents.
Andres finished by asking the jury to return "the only verdict consistent with the evidence of this case. And that's guilty — guilty on all counts."
Defense attorneys Downing and Richard Westling split their closing argument, with Westling focusing on the bank fraud charges against Manafort. If Andres had the urgency of someone cramming a lot information into a short amount of time, the defense wanted to portray a sense of calm.
Westling praised Manafort's work over decades as a political consultant, noting he worked with presidents from Gerald Ford to Trump. He argued that prosecutors for the special counsel's office pored over documents and emails related to Manafort to nitpick and "to point out where something doesn't match up" — rather than investigating a serious crime.
"Mr. Manafort involved his bookkeeper, his accountant, Mr. Gates and others," said Westling. "That's not consistent with someone who's attempting a fraud. ... Fraud is about secrecy."
Defense attorneys, in their closing arguments and in their decision not to call any witnesses, have reminded the jury that it is the government's job to get over the bar of proof necessary to convict Manafort.
"The government has not met their burden," Downing told the jury. "We're going to ask at the end of it [that] you find Mr. Manafort not guilty of all the charges."
Andres was then given the chance to rebut the defense's argument.
"The defense wants you to believe this is a case about Rick Gates. They haven't explained the dozens and dozens of documents," Andres said. "The defense is telling you to ignore your own common sense."
What comes next
After both sides concluded, Judge T.S. Ellis III gave the jury instructions for deliberation. He also sought to try to rescind much of his pushback to prosecutors throughout the trial.
"You should not construe any comment the court may have made or any questions the court may have asked as expressing an opinion as to the evidence," Ellis said. "You may disregard some or all of my comments as you deem appropriate."
The case is the first brought by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller to go to trial, and the proceedings have drawn intense national interest. The courtroom on Wednesday was filled to capacity; the line to get in early in the morning stretched around the block.
The charges against Manafort do not delve into the core question of Mueller's investigation — whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian attack on the 2016 election.
Instead, they stem from Manafort's lobbying and political consulting work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician and party
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