Closing Arguments Were High Stakes for Manafort’s Defense Team. They May Be Higher for Robert Mueller

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


Andrew Cuomo’s Office Backtracks After Governor Says America ‘Was Never That Great’

ALBANY, N.Y. — America “was never that great” and won’t be great until all Americans share true equality, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday in a speech blasting Republican President Donald Trump and his slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Cuomo, who is considered a potential White House contender in 2020, made the remarks at a bill signing event in Manhattan. He said Trump wants to return to a period of greater sexism, racism and intolerance toward immigrants. He said New York would strive to be a liberal alternative where people of all backgrounds have the same opportunities.

“We’re not going to make America great again — it was never that great” said Cuomo, who is running for a third term this November. “We have not reached greatness. We will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged.”

The crowd at the event reacted with surprised gasps and laughter to the comments, which were highly unusual for a politician of Cuomo’s stature and experience.

Republicans quickly pounced.

“America, with its imperfections, has always been great,” said Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive who faces Cuomo in this year’s election. “Mr. Cuomo owes the nation an apology. He should be ashamed of himself.”

Brian Kolb, the minority leader of the state Assembly, tweeted that Cuomo’s remark was “inexcusable & reprehensible.”

A spokeswoman for Cuomo later backtracked on the governor’s comments in a statement seeking to clarify the point he was making.

“The governor believes America is great and that her full greatness will be fully realized when every man, woman, and child has full equality,” Cuomo press secretary Dani Lever said in a statement. “When the president speaks about making America great again — going back in time — he ignores the pain so many endured and that we suffered from slavery, discrimination, segregation, sexism and marginalized women’s contributions.”

The war of words between Cuomo and Trump, a native New Yorker, escalated in recent days when Trump, on a visit to upstate New York, said Cuomo had called him and promised not to challenge Trump in 2020. Cuomo denied the president’s account.

Cuomo faces former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon in next month’s Democratic primary.

…read more

Source:: Time – Politics


President Trump Revokes Security Clearance of Former CIA Director John Brennan

The White House announced Wednesday that President Donald Trump is revoking the security clearance of former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, who has been a harsh critic of Trump’s rhetoric and policies.

“Historically, former heads of intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been allowed to retain access to classified information after their government service, so that they can consult with their successors regarding matters about which they may have special insights and as a professional courtesy. Neither of these justifications supports Mr. Brennan’s continued access to classified information,” Trump said in a statement read aloud by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at Wednesday’s press briefing.

“At this point in my administration, any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior,” the statement continued.

The announcement came after Brennan, who served as CIA director from 2013 to 2017, most recently criticized Trump for calling former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman a “dog” and a “crazed, crying lowlife.”

“It’s astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, & probity. Seems like you will never understand what it means to be president, nor what it takes to be a good, decent, & honest person. So disheartening, so dangerous for our Nation,” Brennan said in a tweet about Trump on Tuesday.

It’s astounding how often you fail to live up to minimum standards of decency, civility, & probity. Seems like you will never understand what it means to be president, nor what it takes to be a good, decent, & honest person. So disheartening, so dangerous for our Nation.

— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) August 14, 2018

Trump said last month that he was considering revoking the security clearances of several former intelligence and national security officials who have criticized him, but had not yet taken such action. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan had dismissed the threat as an example of Trump “trolling” his critics.

Sanders also said that Trump is reviewing the security clearances of several other former officials, all of whom have been critical of Trump, including former FBI Director James Comey, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former Deputy FBI …read more

Source:: Time – Politics