ALEXANDRIA, VA — The judge presiding over the federal bank and tax fraud case against Paul Manafort on Friday declined to release the names of the jurors serving in the trial.
Judge T.S. Ellis cited threats jurors have received over the course of the trial, which begun about three weeks ago.
“I don’t feel right” about releasing the names, Ellis said.
Ellis was responding to a lawyer representing several media organizations that are seeking to unseal records in the case — including the identities of the jurors, transcripts of bench conferences between lawyers and the judge and a third category that is under seal because it relates to an ongoing investigation. Ellis did not specify the nature of the investigation.
Matthew Kelley, the lawyer representing the news organizations, argued in a hearing on the sealed records that there should be a presumption of openness when it comes to the names of the jurors. Kelley said there had not been any specific threats against the jurors, to which Ellis shot back, “I can tell you there have.”
Ellis added that he has also received threats, and is traveling with a U.S. marshall out of fear for his personal safety.
While the judge expressed sympathy with the media organizations’ desire for records to be available to the public, Ellis said if the court releases the names of the jurors, it could preclude people from participating in future “cases with notoriety.”
Manafort was in the courtroom during the hearing.
The jury continued to deliberate for a second day Friday. Late Thursday, the jury sought clarification on several issues related to the charges against Manafort.
The federal judge in Virginia overseeing the trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort signaled Friday that he is amenable to unsealing some of the records in the case that media organizations are seeking.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said his intention is eventually to unseal everything except for a few names and medical details.
“I made it clear at the time that these matters would not be permanently under seal. I don’t do things to keep from being scrutinized and criticized,” Ellis said.
Ellis said he will hold a hearing on the matter Friday afternoon. Media organizations were seeking to intervene in the case to obtain access to the sealed records.
“I’m no stranger to criticism. But this case has brought it to a new level,” Ellis added, drawing laughter in the courtroom.
As of Tuesday, after a chaotic week of ballot-counting and threats of a recount, Kobach is also the Republican nominee to become the state’s governor.
This was the outcome Democrats wanted. Whereas Kobach’s opponent, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, was seen as an electable, middle-of-the-road Republican, Kobach is a lightning rod. Kobach’s years-long war against phantom voter fraud and close ties to President Trump have made him a polarizing figure saddled with liabilities, presenting Democrats with an in.
But nonpartisan political scientists say that, thanks to a variety of factors, Kobach is actually favored to defeat Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly. Rather than vanquishing a politician loathed by progressives nationwide, Democrats may wake up in November with Kobach running the state.
ALEXANDRIA, VA — Judge T.S. Ellis on Thursday evening answered a few questions from the jurors in the Paul Manafort trial after the jury sent out a note seeking clarification on several issues. Ellis then dismissed the jury for the day, and they will return to their deliberations Friday at 9:30 a.m.
Ellis read the note for the attorneys and discussed his answers with the lawyers on both sides before calling in the jury to answer their questions.
After leaving the courtroom for the day, lead defense attorney Kevin Downing seemed pleased with the questions the jury asked.
“They’re great questions,” Manafort attorney Kevin Downing told TPM. He said they showed the jury was working through the “complicated” issues in the case. He also gave a satisfied shrug when noting that one of the questions pertained to the definition of reasonable doubt.
The first question was about the requirements to file FBAR reports. At the request of prosecutor Greg Andres, Judge Ellis re-read the jury instructions about the law regarding foreign bank account (FBAR) reports.
The second question asked for a definition of “shelf” companies, and their filing requirements. Ellis told the jury they will have to rely on their collective recollection from the testimony and evidence in the trial.
The third question asked the judge to give another definition of the term reasonable doubt. Ellis responded that reasonable doubt means “doubt based on reason,” and that the government is not required to prove guilt beyond “all possible doubt.”
The final question asked by the jury was whether the exhibit list in the case could be amended to reflect the indictment counts. Ellis said no, that jurors must rely on their memory of which exhibits were used during certain parts of testimony.
The questions suggest that the jury is moving slowly, working deliberately and paying attention to the nitty-gritty details of the case. The FBAR question in particular suggests that one of the points the defense stressed during the trial —that Manafort was not the owner or signatory of some of the accounts in question — stuck with jurors as they headed into the deliberations. Notably, the questions pertained to tax and the foreign bank account charges, and not the last set of charges, the bank fraud charges, where the evidence is perhaps most complicated.
Lawyers and reporters hurried to the courtroom in Alexandria as word emerged that the jury had sent out a message.
The jury is deliberating on the bank and tax fraud charges Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, faces. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
ALEXANDRIA, VA — Closing arguments in Paul Manafort’s trial in Virginia featured a prosecution focused on Manafort’s “lies” and his defense’s claim that there major were holes in the government’s narrative about Manafort’s alleged bank fraud and tax fraud.
Manafort attorney Richard Westling made a number of sly digs at special counsel Robert Mueller. He claimed that the allegedly fraudulent loans weren’t being scrutinized “until the special counsel showed up and started asking questions” and, speaking about a particular Manafort loan in the case, he said that “typical DOJ prosecutors” do not prosecute people for pursuing loans in the way that Manafort had.
Because of those comments about a “selective” prosecution, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said he would give members of the jury an additional instruction before they go to deliberation: “to ignore any argument about the Department of Justice’s motives or lack thereof” in bringing this case against Manafort.
Prosecution Walks Through Each Charge
Prosecutor Greg Andres handled the government’s closing argument, and in his inital hour and 40 minutes worth of remarks, he appeared calm as he deliberately laid out Mueller’s case. The jurors appeared attentive and most of them took what appeared to be meticulous notes.
Andres repeatedly argued that the evidence against Manafort is “overwhelming” as he discussed certain charges. He broke down each charge — which includes five counts of tax fraud, four counts of failure to file foreign bank account reports, five counts of bank fraud conspiracy, and four counts to bank fraud — by its particular elements.
Andres reminded the jury of testimony in which Manafort’s bookkeeper and tax accountants said that they unaware of his foreign business accounts. He also brought up charts that an expert witness had brought to the stand showing the amount of income Manafort reported to the government and the amount he hid each year — including some $15 million dollars that allegedly made it from Manafort’s foreign accounts to his vendors without being reported as income.
During the defense’s closing argument, Westling sought to rebut the foreign bank account allegations by displaying for the jury some of the signatures on documents Manafort’s used to open the accounts and noting how they differed from Manafort’s signature on documents taken from his apartment.
“Clearly something was going on with how the foreign banks were signed,” Westling said.
Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing, with whom Westling shared the defense’s closing argument, attempted to paint the tax and FBAR charges as more complicated than prosecutors made them out to be, and placed some blame for any confusion on Manafort’s accountants. He also took issue with some of the calculations made by the prosecution’s expert witness, arguing that he “assumed” every deposit into Manafort’s foreign accounts was income.
“Speculating or assuming is not the basis for a criminal conviction,” Downing said.
Downing argued that Manafort actually reported “almost all” of his income. He also suggested that Manafort’s accountants may have made him believe that classifying income as a loan (a scheme prosecutors focused on) was appropriate.
Downing’s argument, that Manafort was not to blame for the errors on his tax return, had been expected by Andres, however; in his initial remarks, he described Manafort as “capable and bright.”
Defense Goes After Gates
In the second half of the defense team’s closing argument, Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing spent time attacking Rick Gates, Manafort’s former deputy who pleaded guilty and began cooperating with investigators. Downing claimed that the signatures bearing Manafort’s name on foreign bank accounts did not actually belong to Manafort himself, signaling that Gates was holding the reins in any schemes involving overseas money.
Downing said that Gates came to court last week trying to “look all clean shaven” but that he showed himself to be a “liar.” (Gates wore a beard in previous court appearances related to special counsel Mueller’s probe.) Downing lamented that Manafort trusted Gates while he was stealing from him.
“How foolish he must feel,” Downing said, referring to Manafort.
Downing went on to charge that the special counsel’s office was “so desperate” to go after Manafort that it secured a plea deal with Gates. He then suggested that jurors could not rely on Gates’ testimony that he had discussions with Manafort about hiding some of his foreign income and accounts.
“He’s just fabricating it to get his probationary deal,” Downing said.
The attacks on Gates too had been anticipated by Andres, who in his initial round of remarks acknowledged some Gates’ unsavory conduct while arguing that it made sense that Manafort intentionally “didn’t choose a boy scout” when tapping Gates to assist him in his alleged crimes.
“What about Mr. Gates’ affairs?” Andres asked, referencing a question asked by the Manafort’s attorneys when they questioned Gates on the stand.
“Was it to distract you?” Andres asked further.
He told the jury that he does not expect them to take Gates’ testimony “at face value” and instead asked them to “verify” Gates’ claims with testimony from other witnesses.
Later, in his closing argument, Downing defended his decision to mention Gates’ affairs. He said that he only brought it up to reveal that Gates was stealing from Manafort because he was living beyond his means.
“He couldn’t even get his story straight,” Downing said of Gates.
Andres returned to the Gates point during his 15-minute rebuttal, pointing out emails offered in the case that didn’t include Gates as well as those from Manafort giving him directions.
“You are the quarterback,” one of Manafort’s emails to Gates said.
“Guess who the coach of that team is,” Andres remarked.
‘The Star Witness In This Case Is The Documents.’
When laying out the government’s bank fraud allegations, Andres paid particularly close attention to the emails, memos and other documents offered in the prosection’s case.
“The star witness in this case is the documents,” Andres said.
Andres spent a great deal of his initial remarks walking the jury through the first bank fraud charges, which related to a $3.4 million loan from Citizen’s Bank. He then breezed through the remaining loans, perhaps because he felt he was running low on time or because he felt that evidence was fresher in jurors’ minds.
He reminded the jury that prosecutors admitted evidence suggesting that Manafort submitted false documents inflating his income, backdated documents claiming a loan was forgiven, and lied to banks about where he lived and which properties had mortgages.
Westling attacked the charges of bank fraud conspiracy, which make up about half of the total bank fraud charges, by arguing that the government hadn’t shown any such agreement and that prosecutors had in fact stressed that loans only benefitted Manafort. He took apart each claim about individual loans, pointing to evidence that suggested that Manafort did correct information by the time of the closing and arguing that some of Manafort’s representations had no bearing on whether the bank would have approved the loan. He focused on the allegedly fraudulent loans from Federal Savings Bank — whose CEO was a Trump campaign advisor and allegedly promised a role in the administration.
Westling, for his part, argued that not only Gates, but Manafort’s bookkeepers and accounts, and the employees at the banks where he was seeking loans, were often included in emails where the allegedly misleading information was represented for the loans. Westling argued that Manafort was not concealing his conduct the way one would expect of someone seeking to defraud a bank.
Westling also attacked the government’s narrative that Manafort was broke when he turned to seeking allegedly fraudulent loans. He pointed to a bank’s 2017 memo, based on the understanding that Manafort made no income in 2016, showing Manafort with an adjusted net worth of $21 million.
“How can we say he didn’t have money?” Westling asked.
Andres, in his rebuttal, questioned those claims about Manafort’s worth, and said that those numbers were as false as the allegedly doctored financial statements Manafort provided to the bank.
ALEXANDRIA, VA — Closing arguments in the Paul Manafort trial will begin Wednesday morning, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis indicated Tuesday, after Manafort’s attorneys said they would not call additional witnesses and they were resting their case.
The prosecution rested its case against Manafort Tuesday afternoon. Manafort faces charges of bank fraud and tax fraud as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He has pleaded not guilty.
The judge held a sealed session Tuesday morning before opening the courtroom to the public at 11:30 a.m. He gave no hint as to what the sealed matter was about, but the two-hour sealed hearing came after another sealed hearing Monday evening and a number of delays in the proceedings on Friday, during which the attorneys and Ellis had multiple private conversations.
The jury will reconvene Tuesday afternoon, after their lunch break, to hear Manafort’s attorneys say that they are resting their case. After that, they will be dismissed, and the judge will hold a public hearing on jury instructions with the lawyers.
Ellis also told the lawyers on both sides that he would prefer they keep closing arguments to just one and a half hours. Previously prosecutors asked for two hours, which Ellis said Tuesday is “a little excessive.”
ALEXANDRIA, VA — Lawyers representing Paul Manafort have rested their case in his financial crimes trial. The defense did not call any witnesses or present any evidence.
The move followed arguments on a motion for acquittal filed by the defense. Judge T.S. Ellis denied the motion.
Ellis then called Manafort to the podium and asked him if he wished to testify.
“No sir,” Manafort replied.
Manafort is on trial here facing bank and tax fraud charges arising from his work as a political operative in Ukraine. Manafort went on to become campaign manager of Donald Trump’s 2016 election bid. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Manafort’s prosecution by special counsel Robert Mueller is the first to emerge from his investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections.
The prosecution rested its case yesterday following two weeks of evidence detailing years of Manafort’s financial life, including alleged efforts to avoid paying U.S. income taxes on the money he earned overseas and efforts, after his income flow dried up, to fraudulently apply for loans in the United States.
The trial largely avoided mention of the 2016 campaign and Trump’s presidency until the final days, when witnesses for the prosecution laid out an alleged effort by Manafort to secure an administration job for a banker, Stephen Calk of Chicago’s Federal Savings Bank, who allegedly knowingly approved two fraudulent loans to Manafort.
The last three days of trial have been dominated by closed-door meetings between the judge and lawyers for both sides, the subject of which remains unknown. Speculation is that there is an issue of some kind with the jury, but the judge has shed no light on the matter in public settings. A two-hour sealed session was held Tuesday morning before the courtroom opened to the public at 11:30 a.m ET. It came after another sealed hearing Monday evening and significant delays in the trial Friday for meetings between the judge and lawyers.
Two weeks after Federal Savings Bank extended a $9.5 million loan to Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman emailed Jared Kushner recommending that the bank’s CEO serve as Army secretary in the Trump administration.
The November 30, 2016 message was one of several emails related to the loan released by special counsel Robert Mueller on Monday night, as part of his trial against the former campaign chairman, who prosecutors allege defrauded Federal Savings Bank and other banks. Those emails, and other evidence prosecutors have introduced, suggest that Federal Saving Bank CEO Steve Calk had expressed a desire to serve in the Trump administration as he was deeply involved in negotiating Manafort’s loans.
Calk emailed Manafort on November 15, 2016 — the day before the $9.5 million loan closed — a memo “prepared” at Manafort’s “request” pitching his qualifications to serve as Trump’s Army Secretary.
“My goal is to ensure you or my designated prosper has all the information they need to have me successfully chosen by the President-Elect,” Calk said.
The email also included a ranking of the other “Perspective Rolls” in the administration.
Prosecutors accuse Manafort and Calk of engaging in a quid pro quo with the loan and the promise of a Cabinet post. Calk was also named to a Trump campaign advisory committee days after he approved an initial loan proposal for Manafort over the summer, according to a bank employee’s testimony.
Other evidence introduced by the prosecutors indicate that Manafort gave false information to the banks in the process of applying for the loans, which totaled $16 million. In one email, Manafort cops to misstating an existing mortgage one of his homes by $1 million — a mistake he blamed on a “blackout” in a October 7 email to Calk.
“I look to your cleverness on how to manage the underwriting. I recognize it was my mistake at our lunch, but the situation is as described,” Manafort wrote. Calk replied with some ideas for adjusting the terms of the loan.
The next day Manafort emailed Calk seeking to set up a time to get in touch.
“I also want to again thank you for fixing my issue. It means a lot to me. You are becoming a very good friend and I look forward to building our relationship into both a deeper business and personal one,” Manafort said.
Later that month, Manafort would walk away from the terms of that loan proposal, but would negotiate another version of the loan ultimately extending him the $9.5 million in November. In January 2017, he closed a second loan, for $6.5 million, from the bank.
Sometimes this White House just comes out and says it.
Months after initial reports of the Trump administration requiring West Wing staffers to sign non-disclosure agreements, the President and his senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, confirmed Monday that they did.
This practice represents a radical break from prior administrations, rife with ethical concerns, according to legal experts.
Though the administration’s NDAs are likely unenforceable, they represent an intimidation tactic to silence government employees even after they have left the White House.
“It’s an outrage,” Andy Wright, an associate legal counsel in the Obama White House, told TPM. “The people that work in the White House work on behalf of the American people and not on behalf of Donald Trump.”
Wright noted that the agreements would be “void” on whistleblowing obligations or matters involving potential criminal wrongdoing.
The administration’s remarkable admission was prompted by the book tour of former White House adviser and reality TV villain Omarosa Manigault Newman. In “Unhinged,” Manigault Newman writes that the Trump 2020 campaign offered her a $15,000-per-month contract after she was fired last December, with a stringent non-disclosure agreement attached. It prohibited signees from disparaging Trump, his family members, or any of his businesses.
Manigault Newman said she turned it down.
Conway appeared unfazed when asked about the former White House aide’s claims during a Sunday ABC News interview.
“It is typical, and you know it, to sign an NDA in any place of work,” Conway said. “We’ve all signed them in the West Wing.”
Trump confirmed the requirement in one of several Monday tweets about his former protégé: “Wacky Omarosa already has a fully signed Non-Disclosure Agreement.”
Exactly which other staffers agreed to sign the agreements is not yet known. Neither the White House nor campaign immediately replied to TPM’s requests for comment.
Trump is known for making even low-level workers at the Trump Organization, his 2016 campaign, and his presidential transition agree to sweeping NDAs.
The first indication that he’d continued this practice in the White House came in a March Washington Post report. The Post’s Ruth Marcus reviewed a draft agreement that would impose a $10 million penalty for each unauthorized revelation of “nonpublic information” and ensured staffers’ silence even after they left the administration.
A source who signed a final version of the NDA told the Post that Trump required all senior White House staffers to agree to them in spring 2017 in order to curb the flood of leaks to the press.
“There was lots of leaking, things that just weren’t true, and a lot of things that were true and should have remained confidential. The president’s point was that they [staff] would think twice about that if they were on the hook for some serious damages,” the source said.
Former White House legal advisers and transparency advocates reacted with disbelief. The American Civil Liberties Union called the private agreements for public employees “unconstitutional and unenforceable.” Richard Painter, White House ethics czar for George W. Bush, said the NDAs “aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.”
West Wing employees are prohibited from sharing classified information, experts said, but they have the First Amendment right to complain about their boss or their workplace. They may get fired for doing so, as they work at the pleasure of the president, but they can’t be penalized for talking about their public service, according to the experts.
The New York Times reported that the broad document drawn up by White House Counsel Don McGahn did not specify any financial or other penalties for breaking the NDA. Several signees said McGahn made it clear that the agreement was not ultimately enforceable, and was meant only to placate Trump.
At the time, the White House declined to elaborate on the agreements, saying only that White House staffers “were never asked or required to sign NDAs with $10 million clauses,” as stipulated in the draft agreement viewed by the Post.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had referred vaguely to an “ethics agreement” when asked about the NDAs earlier this year.
That doublespeak went out the window with the Manigault Newman disclosures. Trump and Conway both chose to use the more legally loaded term of “non-disclosure agreement” when publicly chastising her for sharing scandalous gossip about her White House tenure.
More chilling is the prospect that Trump’s 2020 campaign is offering former White House employees cushy $15,000 monthly salaries that suggest an elaborate if only implicit hush money arrangement.
Manigault Newman is an unlikely candidate for a campaign job, given that she was let go for unprofessional conduct like hosting a bridal party photo shoot at the White House. But she provided a copy of her draft contract to the Washington Post.
In a Sunday NBC interview, Manigault Newman said that other former staffers are being similarly “bought off” through these agreements, she said.
Wright, the former Obama counsel, had one word for such contracts: “gross.”