Manafort Defense Rests, Setting Up Closing Arguments

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – A federal judge rejected former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s motion for acquittal of bank and tax fraud charges moments before his defense team rested without calling any witnesses, setting the stage for closing arguments Wednesday morning.

Defense attorneys for Manafort have played their strategy close to the chest since the beginning of the trial, but they wasted little time making it known Monday night that they wished to see several of the charges brought against their client dismissed.

Members of the defense team for Paul Manafort, including Kevin Downing, left, Richard Westling, and Thomas Zehnle, walk to federal court as the trial of the former Trump campaign chairman continues, in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 13, 2018. The prosecution is expected to rest its case in the fraud trial. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

In an eight-page request filed after the special counsel’s team rested their case, defense attorney Kevin Downing asked U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to acquit Manafort of four of 32 counts in the superseding indictment. Those counts allege bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud in connection to loan applications Manafort submitted to the Federal Savings Bank.

“The government … has not presented substantial evidence that Mr. Manafort is guilty of these charges because the evidence in the record has clearly established that any inconsistencies in the information supplied in connection with Mr. Manafort’s loan application were not material to the Federal Savings Bank decision on whether or not to approve the loans,” Downing wrote.

Arguing that their motion is supported by testimony that the bank’s senior vice president Dennis Raico offered on the stand, the defense quoted Raico as noting that loans at the bank were subject to review and approval by the bank’s credit committee, which included CEO Steve Calk.

Raico conceded during cross-examination, Downing wrote, that Manafort’s loans were only approved unanimously because the credit committee found them to be “sufficiently collateralized.”

The argument echoes a statement Judge Ellis made Friday from the bench, questioning whether Federal Savings Bank could technically be defrauded if its CEO wanted Manafort to have the loans anyway.

Manafort’s attorneys said their motion also finds support in the testimony of the bank’s vice president James Brennan. Because Manafort was “transparent” with the bank about the nature of his volunteer status for the Trump campaign in 2016, they said the bank’s decision to grant him $16 million in loans was made with the full knowledge that Manafort did not have income at the time the loans were approved.

Judge Ellis denied the motion Tuesday morning, and the defense team opted to rest their case without calling any witnesses to the stand following a closed-door hearing that lasted for more than two hours.

Manafort did not testify as he heads in September to another criminal trial in Washington, regardless of how the verdict squares in this case. The Washington case alleges foreign lobbying violations.

However, the former lobbyist spoke Tuesday morning for the first time since the trial began nearly two weeks ago.

Judge Ellis first asked Manafort if he had an opportunity to confer with his attorneys ahead of resting their case.

“I have, your honor,” Manafort said.

Ellis then asked him if he was satisfied with his attorneys’ legal representation.

“I am, your honor,” he replied.

The judge then asked if he wanted to testify on his own behalf.

“No, sir,” Manafort said.

Before the defense rested their case, Judge Ellis denied their motion to acquit Manafort of four of the 32 counts he faces. That ruling was delivered after the courtroom was reopened but before jurors were asked to return.

In this courtroom drawing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, left, sits with his lawyer Kevin Downing as Manafort’s trial continues at federal court in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 7, 2018. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

Defense attorney Richard Westling had argued the motion to acquit should be granted because Federal Savings Bank was aware of Manafort’s employment and income status at the time the loan was granted.

“They structured the loan to accommodate any issues they might have found,” Westling said. “They weren’t acting without the knowledge of his true status of affairs.”

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye countered, saying Federal Savings Bank employees Raico and Brennan made it clear that regardless of whether there was sufficient collateral for the loans, “if a borrower supplies fraudulent information to a bank, it’s [still] fraudulent information.”

The defense also argued that the bank’s CEO, Calk, acted within his rights to lend Manafort the $16 million because the bank is effectively under his ownership and it’s his call on whether it can take the risk.

“Calk is not the bank,” Asonye argued in response. “He is a 67 percent shareholder. There were four other victims involved.”

There is a difference, the prosecutor argued, between a “reasonable lender” and a “renegade lender.”

Jurors will return to the courtroom briefly Tuesday afternoon after lunch recess and the defense will formally rest its case in front of them.

A charging conference will follow and closing arguments are expected to begin Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. Judge Ellis has allotted two hours for each side to make their case to jurors.

A conviction for Manafort could send the 69-year-old to prison for the rest of his life.

The prosecution team working under Special Counsel Robert Mueller  consists of Asonye, Greg Andres and Branden Van Grack, as well as Andrew Weissmann and Michael Dreeben out of court.

 

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