On the final day of arguments in Paul Manafort’s trial, Judge T.S. Ellis referenced media reports about the instances of him yelling at prosecutors throughout the case. “If you read the newspapers,” the Eastern District of Virginia judge told Justice Department prosecutors, “they win everything, you lose everything.”
“Let’s keep it that way, Your Honor,” Manafort’s defense attorney Kevin Downing joked.
It was a lighthearted response—met with laughter in the courtroom— on a day with particularly high stakes for both the defense and the prosecution. Over the past 11 days, the government called 27 witnesses and admitted more than 300 documents into evidence in an effort to prove that Manafort, a longtime political operative and President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, committed tax and bank fraud, hiding millions of dollars in overseas accounts and providing false information to banks when he applied for loans.
But Manafort’s defense team made a gamble that is somewhat common in criminal cases: they decided not to call any witnesses of their own. That meant the bulk of their strategy relied on emphasizing the burden of proof to jurors on the final day on Wednesday. When a defense team calls witnesses, it can be tempting for jurors to see two competing stories, with each side needing to prove its version is true. Not calling defense witnesses can help highlight to jurors that the full burden of proof is on the prosecution.
“We believe,” defense attorney Richard Westling explained of why they didn’t call any witnesses, “the government has not met that burden.”
For government prosecutors, the closing statement carried more than just the weight of the case against Manafort. This trial may not be directly related to Trump or Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but it is still the first to result from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. As the President continues to refer to the investigation as “rigged” and a “witch hunt,” a conviction in its first major case could help the investigators prove its legitimacy to a skeptical public.
“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money,” said prosecutor Greg Andres, “it is littered with lies.”
Defense lawyers leaned heavily on how they had attempted to undermine prosecution star witness Rick Gates’ credibility during cross examination last week. (Gates, Manafort’s former right-hand man, admitted to committing multiple crimes, both on his own and with Manafort, and admitted to an affair during cross examination.)
Downing, who cross examined …read more
Source:: Time – Politics