Paul Manafort Defense Rests Without Calling Any Witnesses

(Bloomberg) -- Paul Manafort’s legal team rested its case without calling any witnesses on Tuesday, setting the stage for closing arguments before the judge hands the case to jurors for a verdict.

Manafort elected not to testify in his defense, choosing to rely instead on the team’s cross-examination of government witnesses including Rick Gates, his longtime deputy, and several accountants, bookkeepers and bankers who had financial dealings with Manafort.

Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, is accused of defrauding banks to secure loans and hiding overseas bank accounts and income from U.S. tax authorities. Earlier, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III denied a defense motion to acquit Manafort on the charges because prosecutors hadn’t proved their case.

Closing arguments are expected on Wednesday, and jurors may begin deliberating shortly after receiving their final instructions from the judge.

After prosecutors rested their case late Monday, the drama on Tuesday was over whether Manafort would offer any evidence. The answer was delayed as the judge held a two-hour hearing behind closed doors for unexplained reasons.

After Ellis denied the defense request to dismiss the indictment, the judge turned to Manafort’s team and asked if it wished to offer any evidence.

“The defense rests,” Kevin Downing, a Manafort lawyer, replied.

Ellis then called Manafort to the podium and asked whether he understood that “you have the absolute right to testify and you have the absolute right not to testify” and that the jurors would be instructed to not let his decision influence their deliberations.

Manafort said he understood. The judge then asked if Manafort had had an opportunity to confer with counsel before deciding whether to testify.

“I have decided,” Manafort replied. Ellis next asked if he wanted to testify. “No sir,” Manafort said.

If Manafort had decided to testify, he would have exposed himself to a brutal cross-examination that would have put his credibility squarely before the jury and shifted jurors’ focus away from Gates, lawyers said.

“Manafort had far more to lose than to gain if he testified or called any witnesses,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor. “If jurors hear him on the stand and they think he’s lying, it’s over for him.”

Gates testified that he helped Manafort hide income that he’d received over a decade working as a political consultant for pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine. He also told jurors about how that income was moved through undeclared companies in Cyprus.

Among the witnesses Mueller called over 11 days were Manafort’s bookkeeper, tax accountants, bankers and government agents to corroborate Gates’s testimony and lay out Manafort’s financial activities and offshore accounts. Prosecutors also introduced hundreds of documents aimed at outlining the extent of Manafort’s misrepresentations.

On cross-examination, defense lawyers depicted Gates as a liar who embezzled millions of dollars from his boss and used money taken from his companies to cheat on his wife.

Ellis sent jurors home in the early afternoon with instructions to return in the morning to hear closing arguments in the case before receiving their instructions for deliberation. Each side will have two hours for their arguments, and Ellis said instructions would take an hour and a half.

If convicted, Manafort is facing a sentence of 8 to 10 years on the tax charges alone and could be looking at even more time if the jury finds him guilty of any of the nine counts of bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy, which each carry a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment.

Jurors will have to rely on the evidence admitted, their recollections and notes they took in composition books provided to them by the court. Ellis has said he won’t permit them to hear read-backs of testimony from transcripts.

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