The defense in Paul Manafort's Alexandria, VA trial on bank and tax fraud charges have rested their case - without calling a single witness to the stand, including Manafort.
Prosecutors allege he dodged taxes on millions of dollars made from his work for a Ukrainian political party, then lied to obtain bank loans when cash stopped flowing from the project.
The courtroom was sealed for around two hours Tuesday morning for an unknown reason, reopening around 11:30 a.m. with Manafort arriving around 10 minutes later.
The decision to rest their case without calling any witnesses follows a denial by Judge T.S. Ellis III to acquit Manafort after his lawyers tried to argue that the special counsel had failed to prove its case at the federal trial.
The court session began at approximately 11:45 a.m.:
“Good afternoon,” began defense attorney Richard Westling, who corrected himself and said, “Good morning.”
“I’m as surprised as you are,” Judge Ellis responded.
Ellis then heard brief argument from both sides on the defense’s motion for acquittal, focusing primarily on four counts related to Federal Savings Bank.
“Federal Savings Bank was aware of the status of Paul Manafort’s finances,” Westling argued. “They came to the loans with an intent of doing business with Mr. Manafort.”
Prosecutor Uzo Asonye fired back, saying that that even if bank chairman Steve Calk overlooked Manafort’s financial woes, it would still be a crime to submit fraudulent documents to obtain the loans.
“Steve Calk is not the bank,” Asonye argued, adding that while Caulk may have “had a different motive” — a job with the Trump administration — “I’m not really sure there’s evidence he knew the documents were false.”
Ellis sided with prosecutors.
“The defense makes a significant argument about materiality, but in the end, I think materiality is an issue for the jury,” he said, adding. “That is true for all the other counts… those are all jury issues.”
Once that exchange was over, Manafort's team was afforded the opportunity to present their case, to which lead attorney Kevin Downing replied "The defense rests."
Ellis then began to question Manafort to ensure he was aware of the ramifications of that decision, to which the former Trump aide confirmed that he did not wish to take the witness stand.
Manafort, in a dark suit and white shirt, stood at the lectern from which his attorneys have questioned witnesses, staring up at the judge. Ellis told Manafort he had a right to testify, though if he chose not to, the judge would tell jurors to draw no inference from that. -WaPo
Ellis asked Manafort four questions - his amplified voice booming through the courtroom:
Had Manafort discussed the decision with his attorney?
“I have, your honor,” Manafort responded, his voice clear.
Was he satisfied with their advice?
“I am, your honor,” Manafort replied.
Had he decided whether he would testify?
“I have decided,” Manafort said.
“Do you wish to testify?” Ellis finally asked.
“No, sir,” Manafort responded.
And with that, Manafort returned to his seat.