The first major test in court for special counsel Robert Mueller’s team continued Friday in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort – with an unexplained five-hour delay meaning prosecutors didn’t wrap up their case as planned.
Court was scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET, but repeated meetings between Judge T.S. Ellis and lawyers for both sides, at times in private or obscured from the public with white noise, resulted in a delay until after 2 p.m.
Before the lunch break, Ellis brought in the 16 jurors, stressed to them the importance of not discussing the case and told them to “keep an open mind.” He also said the court plans to “continue with evidence” presentations in the afternoon and that he would “expect to make progress.”
When the trial resumed, there was no explanation for the delay. Prosecutors picked up where they had left off, calling two employees of the Federal Savings Bank and a ticket operations manager with the New York Yankees to testify.
Yankees ticket operations manager Irfan Kirimca testified about a multi-year agreement Manafort had with the team to buy four seats for 81 games in a season – for more than $200,000 per year.
In an email to an employee of the Yankees in 2011, Manafort told them to expect a payment of $226,800 for his tickets from one of the dozens of Cypriot accounts he allegedly hid from the government, used to collect his Ukrainian lobbying income and for which he never paid taxes.
Two days later, Kirimca confirmed an email that said the Yankees got a wire payment from Global Highway’s account for $226,800 for Manafort’s tickets. His longtime deputy, Rick Gates, was not involved in the payment, Kirimca said.
Manafort’s case is the first that Mueller’s team has brought to trial, charging Manafort with 18 tax and banking crimes. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Court will resume Monday at 1 p.m. ET.
Before dismissing jurors for the weekend, Ellis emphasized the need for them not to discuss or research the Manafort trial outside of the courtroom.
“Don’t discuss the matter at all,” Ellis said.
“Put it completely out of your mind until Monday. I certainly plan to do that,” he added, to laughter from the courtroom.
Bank officer seeking job in Trump administration
Dennis Raico, a loan officer at Federal Savings Bank, testified that he was a go-between for the bank’s founder and chairman, Stephen Calk, and Manafort as the bank rushed to approve loans while Calk sought upper-level posts in the Trump administration.
Manafort is accused of defrauding the bank of $16 million. He secured his first loan from the bank, for $9.5 million, on Nov. 16, 2016, shortly after the presidential election.
He secured a second loan from the bank, for $6.5 million, on Jan. 4, shortly before Trump’s inauguration. The loan application and approval processes had started months earlier, while Manafort was still involved in the Trump campaign.
He had resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 but stayed in touch with his Gates, who remained with the campaign.
According to Raico, Calk expressed interest in serving the Trump administration.
Around early August 2016, Calk had asked Manafort if he could “help serve the Trump administration,” Raico said, and Manafort asked Raico to send him Calk’s résumé. The jury saw that email Friday displayed in the courtroom.
Three days after the presidential election, Calk called Raico because he hadn’t spoken with Manafort for a few days and wanted to know if he was being considered for secretary of the treasury or secretary of housing and urban development.
The call and Calk’s wish for him to pass on messages to Manafort “made me very uncomfortable,” Raico testified Friday.
Another request for judge’s correction
Prosecutors for the second time want Ellis to correct a statement he made to the jury.
In a filing Friday morning, they asked Ellis to tell the jury to disregard a comment Thursday during a witness’ testimony about alleged bank fraud conspiracy that the attorneys “might want to spend time on a loan that was granted.”
The judge’s comment “misrepresents the law regarding bank fraud conspiracy, improperly conveys the court’s opinion of the facts, and is likely to confuse and mislead the jury,” prosecutors wrote.
The prosecutors want Ellis to explain “that the jury is not to consider the court’s comment and that loans that Manafort fraudulently applied for but did not receive are relevant to the charges in the indictment.”
Ellis made the comment near the end of the day Thursday, as witness Taryn Rodriguez of Citizens Bank testified about a $5.5 million loan Manafort applied for using false statements to the bank but did not receive.
A day before, prosecutors had asked Ellis to correct the record for the jury about his agreement to let an expert witness from the IRS sit in the courtroom before he testified. Ellis told the jury he had been “probably wrong.” Transcripts from earlier in the trial show he clearly discussed with prosecutors the IRS witness observing the trial.
There was no public response to the new request as of 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.