Manafort Judge Apologizes for Outburst at Prosecution

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – The eighth day of Paul Manafort’s bank and tax-fraud trial kicked off Thursday with the presiding judge apologizing for having lashed out at prosecutors a day earlier.

This courtroom sketch depicts Paul Manafort, fourth from right, standing with his lawyers in front of U.S. district Judge T.S. Ellis III, center rear, and the selected jury, seated left, during the jury selection of his trial at the Alexandria Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Va., on July 31, 2018. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said he was sorry shortly after the special counsel brought a motion this morning that urged him to correct what the filing describes as his incorrect suggestion to the jury “that the government had acted improperly and in contravention of court rules.”

“This prejudice should be cured,” the filing states.

The confrontation erupted Wednesday afternoon following testimony from IRS revenue agent Michael Welch when Judge Ellis rebuked the prosecution over evidence that Welch had been in the gallery during other testimony.

Judge Ellis told prosecutors they must “ask specifically” if a witness can be in the room during other witness testimony.

But prosecutor Uzo Asonye challenged this assertion, noting that Ellis had at an earlier point in trial allowed government experts and a case agent to be in the room during testimony.

This noted caused Ellis to bellow at Asonye from across the bench.

Ellis said he “typically allowed case agents to remain” but not experts for either side.

Asonye drew the judge’s ire when he responded that prosecutors would “check the transcript.”

“Well let me clear, I don’t care what the transcript says,” Ellis said Wednesday. “Maybe I made a mistake. But I want you to remember, don’t do that again.”

On Thursday morning Ellis said he had not read the transcript filed this morning but was “satisfied that I could well have been wrong about that.”

“Like any human, [I make mistakes],” Ellis said. “This robe doesn’t make me more than human.”

Any criticism of counsel, Ellis said, “should be put aside.”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with this case,” he said.

Prosecutors called Welch to testify after concluding three days of taking witness testimony from former Manafort protege, Rick Gates. During his six hours of testimony, Gates told jurors in the Alexandria, Virginia, federal courthouse that it was Manafort who directed him to flout U.S. tax laws, commit bank fraud and coordinate the use of offshore bank accounts to stash lucrative political consulting income.

To mar Gates’ credibility on cross-examination, the defense launched into a series of attacks on his character and emphasized the crimes Gates has already admitted to committing.

From his extramarital affairs to the money he admitted to embezzling from Manafort, Gates exited the courthouse telling jurors: “I made many mistakes over many years.”

In opening statements last week, the defense’s argument focused largely on discrediting Gates, a longtime confidante of Manafort’s who pleaded guilty in February to making false statements to the FBI.

It is unclear whether Manafort’s attorneys plans to call any witnesses once the prosecution rests. If not, jury deliberations could begin as early as Friday.

Though they have long held their strategy close, Manafort’s team did indicate just ahead of the trial that they had at least a dozen witnesses at their disposal.

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