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The Manafort trial: Government hits ‘lies,’ Defense slams selective prosecution

Members of the defense team for Paul Manafort, from left, Kevin Downing, Richard Westling, and Thomas Zehnle, walk to federal court for closing arguments in the trial of the former Trump campaign chairman, in Alexandria, Va., Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. | AP Photo

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Paul Manafort left a money trail “littered with lies,” prosecutor Greg Andres told a jury during closing arguments in his bank-and-tax fraud trial on Wednesday, while defense attorney Richard Westling said Manafort was only charged because investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller were “selectively” seeking evidence against him

The jury – six women and six men – will begin deliberations on Thursday morning. The closing arguments came on Day 12 of Manafort’s trial, the first to flow from Mueller’s probe of Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and undefined “related matters.”

Manafort, who was President Donald Trump’s campaign manager from May through August in 2016, resigned after news reports surfaced about his work as a lobbyist for then former Ukraine pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.

On June 15, 2018, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chief, arrives for a hearing at US District Court in Washington, D.C. Prosecutors wrapped up their tax evasion and bank fraud case against Paul Manafort on Wednesday, August 15, 2018. | Photo
On June 15, 2018, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chief, arrives for a hearing at US District Court in Washington, D.C. Prosecutors wrapped up their tax evasion and bank fraud case against Paul Manafort on Wednesday, August 15, 2018. | Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Mueller also filed charges against Manafort for failing to register as a foreign agent for Ukraine and that second trial is scheduled to start Sept. 17 in a Washington D.C. federal courtroom.

The trial in the Alexandria federal courthouse kicked off with showy evidence of Manafort’s extravagant spending for luxury cars, homes and clothes, including a $15,000 ostrich jacket.

The highest profile witness during the trial was Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime deputy who was indicted with Manafort. Gates’ plea agreement required him to testify against Manafort and to continue to assist Mueller, in his wide-ranging investigations.

Gates admitted to an extra-marital affair when he testified.

Andres played down the splash and salacious in his closing.

“Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn’t.”

“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it is littered with lies,” Andres said.

Said Andres, “Ladies and gentlemen, the star witness in this case is the documents.”

STEPHEN CALK AND THE CHICAGO CONNECTION

The government put on 27 witnesses. Manafort is charged with failing to pay taxes on $15 million and hiding millions of dollars in 31 overseas bank accounts.

Manafort is also charged with defrauding three banks of $20 million in loans, including The Federal Savings Bank, 300 N. Elizabeth in Chicago.

Federal’s founder, CEO and majority owner is Stephen Calk and the trial threw a spotlight on Calk’s naked ambition and pay-to-play ploy.

Stephen M. Calk, founder and chairman of The Federal Savings Bank | Provided photo
Stephen M. Calk, founder and chairman of The Federal Savings Bank | Provided photo

Two Federal Bank executives, Dennis Raico, who left the bank in January, and James Brennan, told the jury Calk intervened to make sure that Manafort got $16 million in loans despite a host of red flags about discrepancies in the financial data he submitted. They testified with immunity.

“There was a guiding hand, Steve Calk pushing the loans through,’’ Andres said in his closing, “because he was interested in serving in the campaign and in the administration.’’

Jurors were told by Andres for the first time about an email entered into evidence on Monday.

In that email, remarkable for its audaciousness, Calk wrote to Manafort touting himself as qualified for various positions in the Trump cabinet, other high level spots such as Army Secretary or as an ambassador, ranking 19 nations in his order of preference.

Manafort pushed Calk for Army Secretary to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Andres rushed through the Calk part of his closing, perhaps not wanting to highlight his not being called as a witness.

Manafort’s defense team rested on Tuesday without putting on any witnesses. Manafort did not testify.

Westling told the jury Manafort was Mueller’s victim in that the special counsel charged him after “selectively pulling information together.”

The government never called Calk to testify, though he was the key decision maker in the approval of the Federal bank loans – one for $9.5 million and the other for $6.5 million – major deals for the Chicago bank.

Westling underscored Calk’s absence for the jury.

The government “chooses” its witness, Westling said, flagging that neither Calk, nor Federal’s President, Javier Ubarri; nor the chief operating officer of the bank, Jim Norini were called to testify.

Westling said, “None of them have been witnesses here in court.”

Said Westling to the jury, when it comes to the absence of Calk and the other Federal bankers, it’s up to each of them “to determine what that means.”