U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis made a stink Wednesday, at the Paul Manafort trial in Virginia, about the prosecution’s efforts to introduce as evidence photos of the former Trump campaign chairman’s home renovation projects, his suits and his antique rugs.
“Mr. Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle,” Ellis chastised Uzo Asonye, a prosecutor based in Virginia who is assisting special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
The exhibit list the prosecutors filed ahead of the trial, which started Tuesday, referenced photos of a watch, couture clothing and home projects that included a putting green.
The thousands of dollars of allegedly untaxed income Manafort made consulting in Ukraine then spent on high-end apparel, expensive homes and fancy cars figured prominently in the government’s opening statement, where Asonye mentioned that Manafort also allegedly owned a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the tax charges, as well as to allegations of bank fraud.
On Wednesday, the prosecutors attempted to introduce some of that evidence — namely, a proposal, with photos and graphics, to renovate the electrical wiring at Manafort’s Hamptons home. It came as prosecutors questioned Matt Mikuska, an FBI agent who helped execute a search warrant on Manafort’s condo in Virginia last summer. That brought an objection from Richard Westling, an attorney for Manafort. Ellis, after sending the jury and the witness out of the room for a recess, accused the prosecutors of “gilding the lily” in their effort to display the photos.
Ellis questioned Asonye on what the relevance of Manafort’s spending habits were to the allegations that he failed to disclose on his tax forms his full income or that he maintained foreign bank accounts. Ellis took issue particularly with the fact that the prosecutor was using the FBI agent’s testimony to try to admit the photos, when the vendors who allegedly received wire transfers from Manafort’s bank accounts would later be on the stand to authenticate the invoices and confirm that they were paid.
“Enough is enough,” Ellis scolded Asonye, adding that the home renovation photo “doesn’t advance the ball.”
The judge brought up not just the renovation proposal, but potential exhibits of apparel Manafort allegedly bought using his unreported income, including an exhibit of a watch from a Beverly Hills store called House of Bijan.
“Is it Bi-JAWN?,” Ellis asked.
Asonyre corrected him that it was pronounced “bee-shyan,” letting the soft j roll off his tongue.
“If it doesn’t say Men’s Warehouse, then I don’t know it,” Ellis said.