ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Paul Manafort lied to keep himself flush with cash and to maintain his luxurious lifestyle when his income dropped off, prosecutors told jurors Wednesday in closing arguments in the former Trump campaign chairman’s financial fraud trial.
The government’s case boils down to “Mr. Manafort and his lies,” prosecutor Greg Andres said.
“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it is littered with lies,” Andres said as he made his final pitch that the jury should weigh a trove of evidence presented over the past few weeks and find Manafort guilty of 18 felony counts.
Attorneys for Manafort, who is accused of tax evasion and bank fraud, will have their chance in front of jurors later in the day.
Andres took jurors through a methodical rundown of the 18 charges, and the documentary evidence supporting each.
A screen showed jurors emails written by Manafort that contained some of the most damning evidence indicating he was aware of the fraud, and not simply a victim of underlings who managed his financial affairs.
“Mr. Manafort’s scheme, when you break it down, was not all that complicated. But it was hidden, for sure,” Andres said.
Andres highlighted one email in which he said Manafort sent an inflated statement of his income to bank officers reviewing a loan application he submitted. He highlighted another in which Manafort acknowledged his control of one of more than 30 holding companies in Cyprus that prosecutors say Manafort used to funnel more than $60 million he earned advising politicians in Ukraine.
Prosecutors say Manafort falsely declared that money to be loans rather than income to keep from paying taxes on it.
“Ladies and gentlemen, a loan is not income, and income is not a loan. You do not need to be a tax expert to understand this,” Andres said.
Several jurors took notes while Andres talked; others gazed attentively. Manafort primarily directed his gaze at the computer screen where documents were shown, rather than looking at jurors.
Manafort chose not to testify or call any witnesses in his defense.
The case doesn’t address allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been tasked with investigating those allegations, as well as possible collusion with the Trump campaign, although that’s not part of the fraud case against Manafort.
But as a result of the ongoing probe, Mueller’s legal team says it discovered Manafort hiding millions of dollars in income he received advising Ukrainian politicians. The defense has tried to blame Manafort’s financial mistakes on his former deputy, Rick Gates. Defense attorneys have called Gates a liar, philanderer and embezzler as they’ve sought to undermine his testimony.
The defense rested its case Tuesday more than two-hour hearing that was closed to the public. The judge has not given any explanation for the sealed proceeding, only noting that a transcript of it would become public after Manafort’s case concludes.
Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, told reporters outside the courthouse that they chose not to present a defense case because they believe “the government has not met its burden of proof.”
Also Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III rejected a defense motion that the case should be dismissed on those same grounds. Manafort’s lawyers asked the judge to toss out all the charges, but they focused in particular on four bank-fraud charges.
The government says Manafort hid at least $16 million in income from the IRS between 2010 and 2014 by disguising the money he earned advising politicians in Ukraine as loans and hiding it in foreign banks. Then, after his money in Ukraine dried up, they allege he defrauded banks by lying about his income on loan applications and concealing other financial information, such as mortgages.
Manafort’s lawyers argued there is no way that one of the banks, Federal Savings Bank, could have been defrauded because its chairman, Stephen Calk, knew full well that Manafort’s finances were in disarray but approved the loan to Manafort anyway. Witnesses testified that Calk pushed the loans through because he wanted a post in the Trump administration.
Ellis, in making his ruling, said the defense made a “significant” argument, but that the decision was “an issue for the jury” to decide.
Prosecutors rested their case on Monday, closing two weeks of a testimony in which they introduced a trove of documentary evidence as they sought to prove Manafort’s guilt on 18 separate criminal counts. The prosecution depicted Manafort as using the millions of dollars hidden in offshore accounts to fund a luxurious lifestyle.
While the case against Manafort does not relate to any allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination with the Trump campaign, the proceedings have drawn President Donald Trump’s attention — and prompted tweets — as the president has worked to undermine the standing of the Mueller investigation in the public square.
Trump has distanced himself from Manafort, who led the campaign from May to August 2016 with Gates at his side. Gates struck a plea deal with prosecutors and has provided much of the drama of the trial so far.
Gates testified that he helped Manafort commit crimes in an effort to lower his tax bill and fund his lavish lifestyle. During testimony, Gates was also forced to admit embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort and conducting an extramarital affair.
After jurors were excused on Tuesday, lawyers for both sides conferred with the judge in open court on the language Ellis will use to instruct the jurors in their deliberations.
The only dispute was about what jurors should be told about how to interpret questions and comments interjected by the judge during the course of the trial.
Prosecutors, who have been frustrated by Ellis’ tendency to interrupt and chide prosecutors in front of the jury, sought stronger language to make clear that jurors do not need to adopt any opinions expressed by the judge.
At one point in the discussion, Ellis asked prosecutors whether they thought he had ever interjected his own opinions. Prosecutor Greg Andres, who has had the strongest confrontations with Ellis, said “yes.”
Ellis eventually came up with compromise language that was agreeable to both sides.