The Manafort Defense Rested Without Presenting A Case
Paul Manafort, on trial for bank fraud and tax charges related to his overseas consulting work, will not testify, and his attorneys rested on Tuesday, setting up closing arguments for the one-time Trump campaign manager.
Paul Manafort, President Trump’s one-time campaign chairman, is on trial in federal court in Alexandria on bank and tax fraud charges. Prosecutors allege he failed to pay taxes on millions he made from his work for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party, then lied to get loans when the cash stopped coming in.
The prosecution rested on Monday, and today the defense rested, and Manafort will not take the stand. The courtroom was sealed for nearly two hours this morning, then reopened at about 11:30 a.m. with Manafort coming in 10 minutes later. The reason for the sealed court was not disclosed.
The case is being prosecuted by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said that closing arguments in the case will begin at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and jurors will be given instructions in the case after that. They will be sent home at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, after they see the defense formally rest its case.
The lawyers will discuss Tuesday afternoon what instructions they intend to give jurors. Those are wonky, but important, as they will shape how jurors debate the charges of which Manafort is accused.
In fact, the only time Manafort himself has spoken was in response to Judge Ellis’ reminder of his rights in the proceedings:
Manafort spoke for the first time in court during the trial, saying he will not testify.
Manafort told Judge T.S. Ellis that he would not testify during a brief questioning at the podium before the jury was brought in the room. Manafort is not required to testify because of his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Ellis made this clear during his brief conversation with Manafort.
“You have an absolute right to testify before this jury,” Ellis said. “You have an absolute right to remain silent before this jury.”
Closing arguments are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday, and Ellis encouraged both sides to keep them under two hours.
Manafort faces 18 charges of tax and banking crimes and has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. The case stands as the first major test for special counsel Robert Mueller, who is currently leading the probe into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — including whether there was any collusion between President Donald Trump campaign associates and the Kremlin.
Arm chair lawyers and social media litigators will go crazy, but this is very common. Shaky defenses rest without presenting all the time, as Popehat outlines here, and if you are not going to call the defendant, might as well hide that fact with a blanket, “we don’t need a defense against these ridiculous charges,” type defense.
Will it work? Who knows, the jury will let us know, perhaps as early as the end of this week. The Trump-centric coverage often misses the point that Manafort has been dirty for years, but proving crime beyond reasonable doubt to a jury is never a sure thing. It only takes one juror, after all. Despite the volume of the debate, we are all in the same boat as to the outcome of this trial: we wait.