Five Financiers Granted Immunity Ahead of Manafort Trial

Kevin Downing, attorney for Paul Manafort, walks towards the Alexandria Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Va., Monday, July 23, 2018, for a hearing on the final motions ahead of the upcoming bank and tax fraud trial for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – A federal judge said Monday he will push back the start of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s trial on multiple fraud charges six days, and that he will grant immunity to five witnesses scheduled to testify for the prosecution.

The five witnesses granted immunity Monday are James Brennan, Donna Duggan, Conor O”Brien, Cindy Laporta and Dennis Raico, all of whom are connected to financial institutions.

Manafort’s trial in Virginia was scheduled to begin on Wednesday. It now will not start until July 31, in order to give the Manafort defense team more time to prepare.

“There are equities and good reason on both sides to postpone the start of trial,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said Monday afternoon. “We’ll wait approximately one week and then we’ll go ahead.”

In the meantime, Ellis will move forward with jury selection Tuesday despite the delay.

He also said he will unseal a variety of government documents in evidence and has requested special counsel provide a definitive list of 30 witnesses who will testify later at Manafort’s trial.

Manafort, who appeared in court Monday for the first time since he was put in detention, donned a dark green jumpsuit and rumpled white t-shirt.

Once seated, defense attorney Kevin Downing wasted little time asking Judge Ellis to continue the trial beyond its scheduled start date of July 25.

Thousands of pages of evidence, namely documents the government obtained on Rick Gates’ iPad, iPhone and laptops, have not yet been reviewed by the defense, Downing said, and a continuance is needed.

Attorney Kevin Downing said 120,000 new pages of documents have been turned over to defense since July 6. More than 70,000 come from Gates’ devices, but prosecutor Uzo Asonye said many of the documents were merely photos, internet search results and data from applications used on a cell phone belonging to Gates.

“I’m not sure what looking at those pictures will do for their case,” Asonye said.

Plus, there are roughly 49,000 pages – amounting to some 20,000 documents – from Manafort’s accounting firm, NKSFB, their team has not yet seen, he claims.

Ellis seemed surprised the information from NKSFB was never provided to Downing by Manafort’s previous representation at the firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering.

“We thought we would get it in discovery, your honor. We thought it would be a lot cheaper,” Downing said.

“No. It just depends how you calculate dollars and cents,” Ellis said.

Before deciding whether Downing needs more time, Ellis called a brief recess Monday to consider the matter.

Regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s motion to reject Manafort’s request to exclude evidence related to his lobbying work for Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych, the judge said Monday he would make his decisions on a case-by- case basis. He also asked to see any evidence related to Ukraine first before making a ruling on its usability.

Ellis also said Trump could be mentioned by name during trial, but only in connection with a specific bank loan Manafort received currently in question.

On a related note,  Special Counsel Robert Mueller asked Ellis in a motion filed Sunday to reject former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s request to exclude evidence related to his lobbying work for Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych.

Last week, Downing asked Ellis to preclude evidence such as emails and text messages from Manafort’s trial. He argued the documents compiled on Manafort and Yanukovych  were irrelevant to the multiple bank and tax fraud charges his client currently faces.

Downing took issue with Mueller’s proposed use of a memorandum offering guidance on Yanukovych’s political campaign strategy, an email forward to Manafort featuring the Ukrainian president’s election night speech, shared itineraries for Manafort’s travel to the Ukraine and a PowerPoint presentation on Ukraine Opposition Party campaign strategy.

Downing has also asked that photographs of Yanukovych be kept out of evidence.

“This evidence has minimal probative value. In contrast, evidence related to the substance of Mr. Manafort’s overseas consulting work presents substantial risk of unfair prejudice, jury confusion, and, at a minimum, will result in significant delay and waste of time,” Downing wrote on Friday. “Evidence concerning Mr. Yanukovych, the Party of Regions, and the work that Mr. Manafort performed on their behalf poses the substantial risk that the jurors will be sidetracked by Mr. Yanukovych’s controversial tenure as Ukraine’s president, his removal from power in the midst of public protests, the charges of treason brought against him by the Ukrainian government, and his current exile in Russia.”

Downing also said the evidence would force jurors to focus on Manafort’s work related to “controversies surrounding Yanukovych” rather than “associate that work with an effort to form a closer association between Ukraine and Western Europe.”

On Sunday, Mueller rejected claims that the evidence would be “irrelevant” or confusing for jurors.

“The superseding indictment alleges in pertinent part that Manafort’s subscribed tax returns were false in that they failed to report in full the income he earned through political consulting and lobbying work performed for Ukraine, as well as the offshore accounts through which he was paid,” wrote Andrew Weissmann, prosecutor and special assistant to Special Counsel Mueller.

The exhibits around Yanukovych “serve to prove an essential predicate of [the offenses] – namely that Manafort earned millions of dollars in income for services rendered for Ukraine,” the filing states.

The evidence will corroborate expected witness testimony at trial as well, Weissman said.

Yanukovych’s fall from power in 2014 is also “highly relevant” to the “dramatic decrease” in Manafort’s income, an integral reason why Manafort is being charged with bank fraud, Special Counsel argues.

Besides being “directly probative” of the charges, the limited amount of Ukraine-related evidence prosecutors wish to present is admissible as background evidence, Weissmann noted. He also highlighted that “the government does not intend to litigate in any way the pros and cons of Yanukovych as a leader.”

Prosecutors merely wish to present information about this part of Manafort’s work as a “setting of the case” for jurors.

Emails and other correspondence Manafort wants tossed from trial as irrelevant should be kept in, Weissmann writes, because “they each show that Manafort performed  specific type of work in Ukraine over a lengthy period of time and was compensated for it.”

“Contrary to Manafort’s suggestion, the fact that [he] performed work and received income for such work in Ukraine is in dispute – at minimum, the government bears the burden to prove the amount of income to Manafort as an element of the charged tax crimes,” Weissman wrote. [Emphasis original]

Contentions that the evidence would risk “unfair prejudice” by jurors was also rejected by Special Counsel.

“That Manafort did work for Ukraine and was paid through accounts in Cyprus are relevant facts in a prosecution charging failure to report income and foreign accounts. Further, there is nothing unduly prejudicial about doing legal political consulting work for Ukraine; indeed, Manafort has touted that he served to bring that regime closer to western ideals,” Weissman said.

Offering a peek behind evidence collected in the run up to trial, prosecutors told Ellis Monday afternoon that Stephen Calk, CEO of the Federal Savings Bank, was aware that at one time, Manafort submitted a phony loan application. Prosecutors claim Calk approved it anyway, hoping he could snag a job within the Trump administration.

Additionally,  prosecutors dismissed concerns that the trial could shift away from the subject matter at hand – bank and tax fraud – and into questions around the broader investigation by special counsel, i.e. Russian collusion in the 2016 election.

Mueller has routinely stated that the focus of Manafort’s trial would be on the charges he faces and nothing else. On Monday, prosecutors told Judge Ellis they did not expect a single government witness to utter the word “Russia.”

On Tuesday, Judge Ellis will hear arguments from attorneys about the content of a jury questionnaire the court plans to submit to jurors July 31.

Ellis said questions must remain tightly focused. He also emphasized that questioning related to the “theater” surrounding the White House won’t be tolerated.

“I’m not in the theater business,” Ellis said.

 

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