The prosecution and defense wrap up their closing arguments as Paul Manafort’s trial hurtles toward a final verdict

Paul Manafort
Paul Manafort.
Thomson Reuters

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The jury in the high-stakes criminal trial involving Paul Manafort heard closing arguments on Wednesday as it prepared to deliver a final verdict.

Manafort is the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign. He is the defendant in two criminal indictments from the special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The indictment at the center of this month’s trial was brought in the Eastern District of Virginia and charged him with 18 counts related to tax fraud, bank fraud, and failure to disclose foreign bank accounts. He pleaded not guilty to all counts.

The jury first heard ten days worth of evidence from the prosecution, aided by over a dozen witnesses who testified to Manafort’s alleged crimes. The defense, meanwhile, rested its case without calling any witnesses.

On Wednesday, Greg Andres, the lead prosecutor representing the government, kicked things off with a closing argument that lasted an hour and 40 minutes.

Andres showed the jury several documents and emails that Mueller’s team claims represent proof of Manafort’s actions.

Andres said the exhibits he was showing to the jury painted a clear money trail from Ukraine to Manafort’s overseas accounts to US vendors Manafort dealt with. Andres emphasized the government’s claim that Manafort willfully did not disclose his foreign bank accounts, stashed money in his offshore accounts to avoid reporting it as income, and later sought to falsely inflate his income to secure loans when his finances dried up.

“Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn’t,” Andres said.

While making the prosecution’s argument, Andres frequently returned to one phrase: “Mr. Manafort’s lies.” Specifically, he said the jury should focus on Manafort’s alleged falsehoods and not the credibility of Rick Gates, the government’s main witness against Manafort, whom the defense has repeatedly cast as a liar looking to clear his name by throwing Manafort under the bus.

Andres said Wednesday that the jury didn’t need to trust or like Gates. Instead, he said, the jury should focus on what Gates said and how it stacked up against the testimony given by other critical witnesses, like Manafort’s former bookkeeper, accountant, and tax preparers.

Last week, Gates admitted to committing crimes with Manafort, but he also admitted to embezzling millions from his former boss and having an extramarital affair a decade ago.

Andres sought to shift attention away from Gates during his closing argument, saying at one point that “the star witness in this case is the documents.”

When it was their turn, Manafort’s lawyers cast a political shadow over the proceedings, arguing that Mueller’s case was comprised of “selective” evidence that didn’t amount to any crime.

The defense also said the prosecution failed to show that one of the banks Manafort is accused of defrauding relied on false information. They also said, more broadly, that the government had not proven that Manafort acted intentionally to commit the alleged crimes.

The defense’s argument Wednesday echoes what Kevin Downing, Manafort’s lead defense attorney, said Tuesday when the defense rested its case. He said Manafort was choosing to let the case go to the jury because he and his attorneys “do not believe that the government has met its burden of proof.”

During closing arguments on Wednesday, Richard Westling, one of Manafort’s lawyers, implied that Mueller’s team had embarked on a fishing expedition to nail Manafort down and suggested that if any other prosecutors had been looking into the matter, Manafort wouldn’t have been indicted.

The charges against Manafort weren’t brought until “the special counsel showed up and started asking questions,” Westling said.