WASHINGTON — The jury in the trial of former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort returned to court Friday morning for its second day of deliberations.
After a full day Thursday, the jury hadn’t yet reached a verdict on the 18 counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and hiding foreign bank accounts brought by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
The trial carries major implications for the future of the Mueller investigation. The President has repeatedly called the probe a “witch hunt” that hasn’t found evidence of Russian collusion with his campaign, and Trump’s allies in and out of the White House say the special counsel should wrap things up.
An acquittal of Manafort would add to criticism that Mueller’s investigation hasn’t been worth the time and expense.
A conviction, however, would allow Democrats and Mueller’s supporters to say ending the investigation would be premature. A Manafort conviction could also boost Mueller’s position as he negotiates with Trump’s lawyers over a potential interview.
The trial has not touched on Russia or the 2016 election. Instead, the focus has been entirely on Manafort’s finances.
Prosecutors said Manafort had collected $65 million in foreign bank accounts from 2010 to 2014 and spent more than $15 million on luxury purchases in the same period, including high-end clothing, real estate, landscaping and other big-ticket items.
They also alleged that Manafort had lied to banks in order to take out more than $20 million in loans after his Ukrainian political work dried up in 2015 and accused him of hiding foreign bank accounts from federal authorities. Manafort also was charged with receiving loans from the Federal Savings Bank after one of its executives sought a position in the Trump campaign and administration, according to prosecutors.
“Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn’t,” prosecutor Greg Andres told jurors during closing arguments. “This is a case about lies.”
Defense attorney Richard Westling said Manafort became the special counsel’s victim in a “selective process of pulling” his financial records to concoct a narrative of an “elaborate fraud scheme.” (Judge T.S. Ellis, who has been a colorful, and at times controversial, presence during the trial, later instructed the jury not to consider such characterizations of Mueller’s team’s motives.)
Manafort faces up to 305 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Before leaving for the day Thursday, the jury sent Ellis four questions, including one asking whether he could “redefine” the meaning of “reasonable doubt,” the legal threshold for acquitting a defendant. Ellis responded that the prosecutors had to prove their case not “beyond possible doubt,” but beyond “doubt based on reason.”
Two of the questions — when a person is required to file a foreign banking disclosure and the definition of “shelf” companies — related to tax and banking disclosures from memorable moments in witness testimony during the trial.
Former Manafort deputy Rick Gates testified that shelf companies — the type of company Manafort allegedly used to set up bank accounts in Cyprus — were those that had been already set up on Cyprus’ corporate registry so a person would not have to create and name a new company. It’s as if they “are already on the shelf,” Gates said.
Gates previously pleaded guilty to financial charges brought by Mueller, and he is cooperating with the special counsel. On the witness stand, he admitted to embezzling several hundred thousand dollars from Manafort, his former business partner.
The foreign banking disclosure question goes to one of the defense team’s most effective examinations of a witness in the trial.
In that testimony, an agent from the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said multiple people could be required to file foreign banking disclosures on an account. But she also said that if a corporation owned a foreign banking account, it could have its own filing requirement and people who owned less than 51 percent of the company may not have to file.
Manafort and his wife, Kathleen, each owned 50 percent of his Ukrainian political consulting business, DMP International, which held some of the bank accounts. DMP International itself was not indicted — though as a company it could have been, Ellis had told the jury previously.
Ellis instructed jurors to use their collective recollection for those two questions.
Some of the questions the jury asked Thursday may be answered by the instructions the judge gave them before they began deliberating, which they are able to listen to again.