Manafort Attorney Takes Dig At Mueller, Attacks Gates In Closing Arguments

TPM Illustration. Photo by Getty Images/ Win McNamee

ALEXANDRIA, VA — Closing arguments in Paul Manafort’s trial in Virginia featured a prosecution focused on Manafort’s “lies” and his defense’s claim that there major were holes in the government’s narrative about Manafort’s alleged bank fraud and tax fraud.

Manafort attorney Richard Westling made a number of sly digs at special counsel Robert Mueller. He claimed that the allegedly fraudulent loans weren’t being scrutinized “until the special counsel showed up and started asking questions” and, speaking about a particular Manafort loan in the case, he said that “typical DOJ prosecutors” do not prosecute people for pursuing loans in the way that Manafort had.

Because of those comments about a “selective” prosecution, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said he would give members of the jury an additional instruction before they go to deliberation: “to ignore any argument about the Department of Justice’s motives or lack thereof” in bringing this case against Manafort.

Prosecution Walks Through Each Charge

Prosecutor Greg Andres handled the government’s closing argument, and in his inital hour and 40 minutes worth of remarks, he appeared calm as he deliberately laid out Mueller’s case. The jurors appeared attentive and most of them took what appeared to be meticulous notes.

Andres repeatedly argued that the evidence against Manafort is “overwhelming” as he discussed certain charges. He broke down each charge — which includes five counts of tax fraud, four counts of failure to file foreign bank account reports, five counts of bank fraud conspiracy, and four counts to bank fraud — by its particular elements.

Andres reminded the jury of testimony in which Manafort’s bookkeeper and tax accountants said that they unaware of his foreign business accounts. He also brought up charts that an expert witness had brought to the stand showing the amount of income Manafort reported to the government and the amount he hid each year — including some $15 million dollars that allegedly made it from Manafort’s foreign accounts to his vendors without being reported as income.

During the defense’s closing argument, Westling sought to rebut the foreign bank account allegations by displaying for the jury some of the signatures on documents Manafort’s used to open the accounts and noting how they differed from Manafort’s signature on documents taken from his apartment.

“Clearly something was going on with how the foreign banks were signed,” Westling said.

Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing, with whom Westling shared the defense’s closing argument, attempted to paint the tax and FBAR charges as more complicated than prosecutors made them out to be, and placed some blame for any confusion on Manafort’s accountants. He also took issue with some of the calculations made by the prosecution’s expert witness, arguing that he “assumed” every deposit into Manafort’s foreign accounts was income.

“Speculating or assuming is not the basis for a criminal conviction,” Downing said.

Downing argued that Manafort actually reported “almost all” of his income. He also suggested that Manafort’s accountants may have made him believe that classifying income as a loan (a scheme prosecutors focused on) was appropriate.

Downing’s argument, that Manafort was not to blame for the errors on his tax return, had been expected by Andres, however; in his initial remarks, he described Manafort as “capable and bright.”

Defense Goes After Gates

In the second half of the defense team’s closing argument, Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing spent time attacking Rick Gates, Manafort’s former deputy who pleaded guilty and began cooperating with investigators. Downing claimed that the signatures bearing Manafort’s name on foreign bank accounts did not actually belong to Manafort himself, signaling that Gates was holding the reins in any schemes involving overseas money.

Downing said that Gates came to court last week trying to “look all clean shaven” but that he showed himself to be a “liar.” (Gates wore a beard in previous court appearances related to special counsel Mueller’s probe.) Downing lamented that Manafort trusted Gates while he was stealing from him.

“How foolish he must feel,” Downing said, referring to Manafort.

<<enter caption here>> on February 23, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Richard Gates arrives at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, DC, for a hearing at which he would plead guilty, February 23, 2018. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Downing went on to charge that the special counsel’s office was “so desperate” to go after Manafort that it secured a plea deal with Gates. He then suggested that jurors could not rely on Gates’ testimony that he had discussions with Manafort about hiding some of his foreign income and accounts.

“He’s just fabricating it to get his probationary deal,” Downing said.

The attacks on Gates too had been anticipated by Andres, who in his initial round of remarks acknowledged some Gates’ unsavory conduct while arguing that it made sense that Manafort intentionally “didn’t choose a boy scout” when tapping Gates to assist him in his alleged crimes.

“What about Mr. Gates’ affairs?” Andres asked, referencing a question asked by the Manafort’s attorneys when they questioned Gates on the stand.

“Was it to distract you?” Andres asked further.

He told the jury that he does not expect them to take Gates’ testimony “at face value” and instead asked them to “verify” Gates’ claims with testimony from other witnesses.

Later, in his closing argument, Downing defended his decision to mention Gates’ affairs. He said that he only brought it up to reveal that Gates was stealing from Manafort because he was living beyond his means.

“He couldn’t even get his story straight,” Downing said of Gates.

Andres returned to the Gates point during his 15-minute rebuttal, pointing out emails offered in the case that didn’t include Gates as well as those from Manafort giving him directions.

“You are the quarterback,” one of Manafort’s emails to Gates said.

“Guess who the coach of that team is,” Andres remarked.

‘The Star Witness In This Case Is The Documents.’

When laying out the government’s bank fraud allegations, Andres paid particularly close attention to the emails, memos and other documents offered in the prosection’s case.

“The star witness in this case is the documents,” Andres said.

Andres spent a great deal of his initial remarks walking the jury through the first bank fraud charges, which related to a $3.4 million loan from Citizen’s Bank. He then breezed through the remaining loans, perhaps because he felt he was running low on time or because he felt that evidence was fresher in jurors’ minds.

He reminded the jury that prosecutors admitted evidence suggesting that Manafort submitted false documents inflating his income, backdated documents claiming a loan was forgiven, and lied to banks about where he lived and which properties had mortgages.

Westling attacked the charges of bank fraud conspiracy, which make up about half of the total bank fraud charges, by arguing that the government hadn’t shown any such agreement and that prosecutors had in fact stressed that loans only benefitted Manafort. He took apart each claim about individual loans, pointing to evidence that suggested that Manafort did correct information by the time of the closing and arguing that some of Manafort’s representations had no bearing on whether the bank would have approved the loan. He focused on the allegedly fraudulent loans from Federal Savings Bank — whose CEO was a Trump campaign advisor and allegedly promised a role in the administration.

Westling, for his part, argued that not only Gates, but Manafort’s bookkeepers and accounts, and the employees at the banks where he was seeking loans, were often included in emails where the allegedly misleading information was represented for the loans. Westling argued that Manafort was not concealing his conduct the way one would expect of someone seeking to defraud a bank.

Westling also attacked the government’s narrative that Manafort was broke when he turned to seeking allegedly fraudulent loans. He pointed to a bank’s 2017 memo, based on the understanding that Manafort made no income in 2016, showing Manafort with an adjusted net worth of $21 million.

“How can we say he didn’t have money?” Westling asked.

Andres, in his rebuttal, questioned those claims about Manafort’s worth, and said that those numbers were as false as the allegedly doctored financial statements Manafort provided to the bank.

(This post has been updated.)

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