Manafort Judge, Mueller Prosecutors, in Post-Trial War of Words
(Bloomberg) -- Simmering tensions between Paul Manafort’s trial judge and Robert Mueller’s prosecutors erupted into an outright courtroom confrontation late Monday.
Justice Department lawyer Greg Andres and U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III had several heated exchanges including the prosecutor’s assertion that Ellis was impeding his team’s ability to introduce the evidence the judge had urged them to get to early in the trial.
When the judge suggested prosecutors had put in extraneous evidence, Andres asked him to cite an example.
“I don’t have to give you an example,” Ellis snapped.
The exchanges capped a hectic half day during which Rick Gates, the former top aide to Manafort, testified that he and his ex-boss committed the crimes of which they’re accused.
Since the start of the trial last week in Alexandria, Virginia, Ellis has been riding Andres and Virginia federal prosecutor Uzo Asonye, pushing them to streamline their case and confine their questioning of witnesses to only those facts the judge considers essential to proving the tax- and bank-fraud charges with which Manafort is charged.
Despite the trial’s brisk pace – prosecutors have presented testimony from 16 witnesses in just five days -- Ellis has repeatedly told them to “move on!”
During Monday’s proceedings, the judge became impatient with prosecutors’ efforts to illustrate Gates’s travel in and out of Ukraine and Cyprus, using pages from his passport. “Get to the heart of the matter!” Ellis told Andres.
When the prosecutor’s reply cut off the judge in mid-sentence, Ellis yelled, “listen to me!” scolding the prosecutor for interrupting him. The judge then told Andres he should have summarized the travel log in a single document in consultation with defense counsel.
Nobody had asked for that, Andres replied.
“I am!” the judge shot back.
After Gates stepped down and the jury was excused, Ellis summoned Andres to the podium. The judge billed it as an opportunity for the prosecutor to explain why he had to get into details of who paid Manafort for his consulting work.
When Ellis described those payments as “political contributions,” Andres -- his voice cracking -- shot back.
“These people are oligarchs!” the prosecutor said, adding that the paymasters – including billionaire Rinat Akhmetov and Sergei Lyovochkin contributed the money in exchange for the government’s willingness to let them control segments of the Ukrainian economy. Last week, the judge barred both sides from using the word oligarch in front of the jury, stating it had a negative connotation that may lead jurors to ascribe guilt-by-association to Manafort.
Whether these people were good or bad was irrelevant to the ultimate question of Manafort’s guilt, the judge retorted.
“That’s not what the law is,” Andres told the judge, explaining prosecutors were still required to show the money was income earned by Manafort, which he then stashed in foreign bank accounts and failed to disclose to the U.S. in tax and Treasury Department disclosure forms.
“You don’t need to throw mud at those people,” Ellis said.
The judge and the prosecutor even sparred over whether the trial record will show Ellis unduly interfered in the case.
The judge told Andres that on that point, “you will lose.”
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