Politics

3 Takeaways as Second Week of Manafort Trial Ends

Procedural hiccup pushed Friday’s start to middle of afternoon

The entrance to the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., where President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is standing trial is seen in a puddle on July 31. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

The second week of the tax evasion and bank fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is in the books with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team expecting to call its final witness to the stand Monday afternoon. After that, the prosecution will rest its case.

After a procedural hiccup Friday morning that pushed the start of the day’s testimony to the middle of the afternoon, three of the prosecution’s witnesses took the stand to discuss the bank fraud charges against Manafort. Two employees from The Federal Savings Bank testified about a pair of loans Manafort secured from the bank in 2016. A ticket sales executive for the New York Yankees also testified.

Manafort is facing 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud and a maximum 305-year prison sentence if the Eastern Virginia jury finds him guilty.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from Day Nine of the trial and what to look forward to as the trial picks up again Monday:

1. Questions arise — and are dispelled — about whether the jury was compromised

On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Greg Andres said he had “every intention” of resting his team’s case against Manafort on Friday.

But an unspecified incident that seemed to call into question the jury’s integrity stalled witness testimony until 2:21 p.m., nearly five full hours after proceedings were initially scheduled to recommence Friday.

After a series of “sidebar” conversations between attorneys from both sides and the Judge T.S. Ellis III, along with two recesses, Ellis finally brought the jury in shortly after 11 a.m.

He delivered a pointed message to them.

“It’s very important that you not discuss the case with anyone,” he said. Jurors should keep an “open mind” until all evidence has been presented, Ellis said. He reminded them that Manafort has a “presumption of innocence.”

Ellis then dismissed the jury and called for a two-and-a-half-hour lunch recess — by far the longest he has ordered since the trial began.

By the time he gaveled in around 2:15 p.m., the issue had apparently been resolved. All 12 jurors and four alternate jurors shuffled to their seats.

At the end of the day, Ellis again issued a stark warning to the jury not to divulge their thoughts or discuss the case with anyone over the weekend.

That directive included avoiding “general comments,” such as saying whether they were “fascinated or bored” by the proceedings, Ellis said.

ICYMI: What I Learned From 4 Days Covering the Manafort Trial

2. Prosecutors did not prove a political quid pro quo arrangement between Manafort and a Federal Savings Bank executive — but that wasn’t the point

Andres spent a large portion of Friday’s direct examination of Dennis Raico, a senior vice president at The Federal Savings Bank, dancing around a presumed arrangement between bank chairman Steve Calk and Manafort under which Calk would ram through two loan applications for Manafort if Manafort pushed for Trump to nominate Calk as either his Treasury or Housing and Urban Development secretary.

But that’s all it ever amounted to — a presumption.

Raico testified Friday that Calk, who was “interested in politics,” and Manafort met privately for lunch on multiple occasions as Calk took it upon himself to personally shepherd Manafort’s loan applications through the bank’s procedures, a situation that was “outside the norm.”

Calk and the board of directors eventually approved Manafort for two loans on some of his properties totaling $16 million.

On Aug. 3, 2016, when Manafort was still the chairman of Trump’s campaign, he sent an email to Raico with the subject line, “Need Steve Calk resume.”

“Mr. Calk asked if he could help serve the Trump administration,” Raico testified, though neither he nor the prosecutors could not provide any documentary evidence for the claim.

On Nov. 11, 2016, three days after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to become the 45th U.S. president, Raico received a call from Calk.

Calk told him that he had not spoken with Manafort in a while. He asked Raico to inquire with Manafort whether he was a candidate for the Treasury or HUD posts.

Raico did not call Manafort, he testified Friday. Andres asked him why not.

“It made me very uncomfortable,” Raico said.

Despite his testimony Friday, Raico admitted that he could offer “nothing concrete” to substantiate his belief that Calk sought a political favor from Manafort in return for helping him secure the two loans.

The alleged quid pro quo was not part of Manafort’s indictment, and he is not being prosecuted on any such charge.

So why did the prosecution spend so much time on it?

The sharp focus on the alleged quid pro quo arrangement was likely a maneuver by prosecutors to demonstrate corrupt intent on Manafort’s part.

Even though they could not provide concrete evidence of such an exchange between Manafort and Calk, the circumstantial evidence they had Raico describe could push the jurors toward a more negative view of Manafort’s intentions.

What Manafort has been charged with in relation to the two Federal Savings Bank loans is intentionally misreporting his income and failing to report debts he held at the time on his applications.

He claimed that through September 2016, his political consulting firm, DMP International, had brought in $3 million in profits.

Raico said he discovered “discrepancies” in the income numbers Manafort reported to the bank and other records he reviewed.

“A plus B didn’t equal C all the time,” Raico said.

When the Federal Savings Bank confronted Manafort about an outstanding roughly $300,000 debt to the New York Yankees on an American Express credit card, he said he had lent the card to his deputy, Rick Gates, to purchase the tickets.

A Yankees ticket sales executive testified Friday that Manafort had been a season ticket holder since 2010, had the tickets ordered to his Fifth Avenue home in New York, and did not consult with Gates on the season tickets.

3. Jurors could begin deliberating verdict as early as Tuesday

Jurors will hear from at least one more government witness Monday when the trial resumes at 1 p.m. Prosecutors want to call another witness to clarify when someone who has monetary interests abroad would need to file a report of foreign bank and financial accounts, or FBAR, with the Treasury Department.

Manafort has never filed an FBAR, even though he has controlled 31 foreign accounts over the last 11 years, prosecutors have shown.

Curiously missing from the courtroom Friday was lead defense attorney Kevin Downing.

That could be an indication that the defense is preparing to call one or more witnesses on behalf of Manafort next week, multiple attorneys told Roll Call.

Ellis has allotted each of the sides two hours for their closing arguments, though he advised the attorneys, with his trademark wit, that they may want to cut their final statements short to keep the jury’s attention.

“It’s no accident,” he said, “that TV programs are half an hour.”

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