REporter's notebook

Inside The Courtroom: Manafort Cracks The Occasional Smile During Trial

TPM Illustration
August 10, 2018 6:00 a.m.

As Paul Manafort watches the parade of witnesses testifying against him in his Virginia trial, he appears calm and serious. He often directs his attention to the witness stand or to documents admitted into evidence as he listens to testimony, but we’ve caught him yawning at least once.

In the crowded courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, my colleague Tierney Sneed and I don’t generally have a great view of Manafort and his reactions. He is seated so that his back is turned away from the general public, and only a few seats in the courtroom let us see the side of his face during trial. From what we have seen, he has a pretty good poker face during the proceedings.

What we’ve mostly been able to witness is how Manafort behaves during breaks in the proceedings when the jury is not in the room.

During those times, he can be seen having moments of levity while chatting with his lawyers. Even at the end of the first day that Rick Gates testified, Manafort could be seen smiling at his lawyers on his way out of the courtroom.

Another example: On Thursday morning before trial began for the day, Manafort was huddled with his lawyers chatting and laughing. One of his attorneys, Thomas Zehnle, at one point whispered something to Manafort. Zehnle then patted Manafort on the back while they both laughed.

Tierney and I were intensely interested in how Manafort would react while Gates was on the stand — his former right-hand man was now testifying that he helped Manafort break the law.

Yet it was tough to see Manafort’s face during that time, and your trusty reporters were often busy taking notes on what the key witness had to say. But at the times when I could see Gates, he appeared to avoid eye contact with his former boss. And Manafort looked at Gates while he spoke, as Manafort often does during witness testimony.

After the cross examination of Gates ended on Wednesday, Manafort could be seen during breaks looking at a document and taking notes in a yellow legal pad without his lawyers around. It’s unclear whether this had to do with Gates’ testimony or another matter entirely.

Manafort’s wife, Kathleen Manafort, attends the trial proceedings every day, seated in the front row behind Manafort. She is joined by a friend every day, and a second friend has started coming to court with her this week. Manafort can be seen smiling at his wife occasionally, as well as at his spokesman, Jason Maloni.

Kathleen Manafort has appeared relatively calm during the proceedings, and can be seen smiling and chatting with her friends and Maloni during breaks.

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