Prosecutors raised the possibility they won't call Rick Gates to testify
President Donald Trump tweeted several times about the Manafort trial
Prosecutors on Wednesday sought to illustrate Paul Manafort’s expensive taste in suits, cars and real estate – paid for by wire transfers from offshore accounts – while President Donald Trump took to Twitter to sound off on the trial of his former campaign chairman and to attack special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Prosecutors also raised the prospect that Manafort’s longtime deputy, Rick Gates, would not be called as a witness, potentially complicating the defense’s attempts to deflect blame from Manafort to Gates.
As Mueller’s team made its case against Manafort in the courtroom, the President took to Twitter to call the prosecution a “hoax” and claim that Manafort had worked for his campaign “for a very short time.”
Manafort’s trial is the first case Mueller’s team has taken before a jury, where they are charging Manafort with 18 counts of violating tax and banking laws. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Prosecutors have highlighted Manafort’s purchases of real estate, cars, a $21,000 watch and a $15,000 jacket “made from an ostrich” in their effort to paint him as a lavish spender. Judge T.S. Ellis, however, has prevented prosecutors from showing photos of luxury items to the jury.
Ellis has repeatedly told the lawyers to “hurry up” or “move along” during questioning, and Mueller’s team said Wednesday that they now expect to rest their case next week. It’s not clear how much time the defense team will take with its case.
Trump compares Manafort treatment to Capone
The President is paying close attention to TV coverage of the trial and has his legal team giving updates on developments, sources tell CNN, and he began the day by blasting the investigation: “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”
In a second tweet, Trump wrote: “Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders. He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion - a Hoax!”
Trump sent yet another tweet late Wednesday morning about Manafort by asking who was treated worse, his former campaign chief or Al Capone.
“Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and ‘Public Enemy Number One,’ or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement - although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russian Collusion?” Trump tweeted.
Warning about ‘oligarchs’
Prosecutor Uzo Asonye opened the door Wednesday to the idea that Mueller’s team might not call Gates as a witness.
“He may testify in this case, he may not,” Asonye said. Asonye added that his team is always re-evaluating whether to call a witness, depending on how the case is going and timing.
Ellis tried to hurry prosecutors along all day as they walked the jury through documents found in Manafort’s home with FBI agent Matthew Mikuska.
“If you’re to call Mr. Gates, this is a waste of time,” Ellis said, referring to Mikuska’s testimony about a memo titled “Gates agenda” that appeared to be a strategy memo from 2013.
During the back-and-forth about whether Gates will testify, Ellis noted the flurry of journalists leaving the courtroom, saying they “scurried out of here like rats out of a sinking ship.”
Ellis also made his own connection to the larger Russian investigation with an interesting comparison of “oligarchs” to prominent US political donors.
Before the jury entered the room on Wednesday, Ellis urged both sides to avoid using the term “oligarch” when describing Manafort’s powerful patrons in Ukraine. Ellis told Mueller’s team not to give jurors the implication that oligarchs were criminals.
In making his point, Ellis, who is known as a sometimes colorful judge, even invoked two prominent US political donors.
“Mr. Soros would then be an oligarch … so would Mr. Koch … but we wouldn’t use that term,” Ellis said, referring to Democratic megadonor George Soros and one of the billionaire Koch brothers, whose influential network supports Republican candidates.
No pictures, please
As prosecutors laid out their case Wednesday, Ellis prevented the jury from seeing photos of the luxury clothing, watch and other items Manafort allegedly bought with hidden Ukrainian consulting money.
“Mr. Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle,” Ellis said with the jury out of the room. Ellis has previously expressed his distaste for the special counsel’s approach to the case.