paul manafort trial Judge scolds prosecutors over testimony
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort personally directed millions of dollars in international wire transfers to pay for high-end suits and more than $3 million in improvements at his various houses, witnesses testified Wednesday on the second day of his financial fraud trial.
The testimony was aimed at bolstering the prosecution’s argument that Manafort hid millions of dollars in income from the IRS and used the funds for a lavish lifestyle.
The witness accounts were also intended to contradict Manafort’s lawyers, who have signaled they will pin blame for any illegal conduct on his longtime deputy, Rick Gates.
The prosecution’s focus on Manafort’s personal finances – at times laid out in painstaking detail – underscored the vast amount of documents accumulated by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in their case against the longtime political consultant. But it also tried the patience of U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who repeatedly scolded the government’s attorneys for what he said was excessive and unnecessary information.
Ellis, who warned prosecutors against using the word “oligarchs” to describe wealthy Ukrainians, several times admonished them for spending so much time documenting Manafort’s extravagant lifestyle.
It’s not a crime to be wealthy, he noted. And the pejorative term “oligarchs” and evidence of home renovations aren’t necessarily relevant to the charges in question, he added.
“The government doesn’t want to prosecute somebody because they wear nice clothes, do they?” Ellis said amid testimony that Manafort had spent more than $900,000 on clothing from a boutique retailer where he was one of only about 40 clients. “Let’s move on.”
Ellis even called out lawyers from both sides for rolling their eyes.
The trial is the first courtroom test for the special counsel, who was tasked last year with investigating Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election and to determine whether the Trump campaign was involved.
So far, Manafort is the lone person to stand trial as a result of the ongoing probe, even though the charges of bank fraud and tax evasion are unrelated to possible collusion.
Still, the trial has pulled back the curtain on the former lobbyist who steered Trump’s election efforts for a time, including descriptions of Manafort’s $15,000 jacket made of ostrich and the more than $6 million in cash he put toward real estate.
One witness, Maximillian Katzman, testified that Manafort spent more than $900,000 at his boutique retailer in New York. He said Manafort was the only business client of his who paid via international wire transfer.
Testimony was to resume this morning.