Prosecutors on Monday rested their tax evasion and bank fraud case against Paul Manafort, a longtime Washington operator and President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman.
The case now goes to Manafort’s defense team, which is expected to lay the blame for wrongdoing with Rick Gates, the former Manafort protege who says the two committed crimes together. Defense attorneys have called Gates a liar and embezzler as they’ve sought to undermine his testimony.
The trial is the first to emerge from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, but neither Manafort nor Gates have been charged in connection with their Trump campaign work.
Still, the proceedings have drawn international attention — as well as President Trump’s — for what the case reveals about people in the president’s orbit as Mueller examines the same circles for any election interference or obstruction.
Trump has distanced himself from Manafort, who was chairman of the campaign from May to August 2016 — with Gates at his side. Gates struck a plea deal with prosecutors and provided much of the drama of the trial so far.
The government says Manafort hid around $16 million in income from the IRS between 2010 and 2014 by disguising 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.
Gates said he helped Manafort commit crimes in an effort to protect Manafort’s finances. Defense attorneys called Gates a liar interested in avoiding jail time under a plea deal. Gates was forced to admit embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort.
The prosecution has introduced a trove of documentary evidence as they’ve sought to prove Manafort defrauded banks and concealed millions of dollars in offshore bank accounts from the IRS. Along the way, they’ve not only faced an aggressive defense team but tongue-lashings from U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who presides over the case. The admittedly impatient judge has pushed the government to speed up its case.
Before prosecutor Greg Andres told Ellis the government rested its case on Monday afternoon, the court heard testimony from a bank executive who said he found several red flags with Manafort’s finances while he was being considered for around $16 million in bank loans.
James Brennan, a vice president at Federal Savings Bank, says Manafort failed to disclose mortgages on his loan application. He said he also found several “inconsistencies” in the amount of income Manafort reported for his business.
That information led senior executives to reject one of the loans. But Brennan said Federal Savings Bank chairman Stephen Calk overruled that decision.
“It closed because Mr. Calk wanted it to close,” Brennan said.
Other witnesses have said Calk pushed the loans through because he wanted a plum post in the Trump administration.
Brennan said the Chicago-based bank lost $11.8 million because it had to write off a significant portion of two loans it made to Manafort. He said they were the two largest loans the bank had made when they were issued in late 2016 and early 2017.
On Friday, proceedings were halted for hours by mysterious backstage discussions between the judge and attorneys for both sides. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III recessed the trial without explanation after huddling with his bailiff and attorneys from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office and Manafort’s lawyers for more than 20 minutes.
At one point on Friday, Ellis left the courtroom and headed toward the jury room. After bringing court back into session, he reminded jurors several times that they weren’t to discuss the tax evasion and bank fraud case at all. That included telling them to not even comment on the attire of any witnesses.