What To Expect This Week In The Manafort Trial
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
The trial of Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is about to enter its third and possibly final week. Manafort faces tax and bank fraud charges. He could spend the rest of his life in prison if he's convicted. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been at the courthouse in Virginia every single day, and she's here now to talk about the case. Thanks for joining us, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, you know, take us in there. Paul Manafort is charged with crimes that have nothing to do with President Trump. But Trump's not totally absent from this trial, right?
JOHNSON: That's right. On Friday, jurors heard from people who worked at Federal Savings Bank. One of those witnesses testified under a grant of immunity from prosecution. He said the bank's CEO, Steve Calk, took an unusual personal interest in making loans to Paul Manafort in 2016. And he said that made him very uncomfortable. This is a time when Paul Manafort was in a lot of financial trouble. His income had dried up. He was trying to do some refinancing of his real estate to get cash.
And the numbers in some of his paperwork did not always add up. This witness talked about discrepancies. A plus B did not always equal C. It turns out the CEO of that bank wanted a big job, like running the Treasury Department or the Department of Housing and Urban Development for President Trump. Those things never happened, but Manafort did get him tickets to the inauguration.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK, so the prosecution in this trial has put more than two dozen witnesses on the stand, and they're almost finished. How are they going to close out their case?
JOHNSON: We expect one or two more witnesses on Monday afternoon. A bank witness - maybe somebody to talk about foreign bank accounts. Then the government's going to rest its case. Remember, this is the first case brought by special counsel Bob Mueller to go to trial. And in some ways, prosecutors are under pressure here because the White House has been calling this whole investigation a witch hunt.
Now, it's not clear the defense is going to put on any case for Paul Manafort because prosecutors have the burden of proof. And the Manafort defense may think it raised enough doubts with their tough cross-examination of Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates. Prosecutors have put on lots of other documents and evidence. They've showed emails that Paul Manafort wrote about his foreign accounts and bank loans signed by him personally. In other words, to hear prosecutors tell it, this case is built on a lot more than Rick Gates.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The first week was all about the crazy clothes and the fancy rugs Paul Manafort bought. I actually am envious of that ostrich jacket.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This week, the judge stole the headlines.
JOHNSON: Yeah. Twice in this case the prosecutors have filed motions asking the judge to correct statements that he made while the jury was in the room. The government contends the judge was popping off in ways that could prejudice their case or that he was just wrong about the law. This is a remarkable dynamic. It just doesn't happen that often. But this judge, T.S. Ellis III, has been on the bench for 31 years and he's used to operating this way. Prosecutors appear to have really gotten under his skin. He's been rough with them.
But on Friday, there was a funny moment. One of the prosecutors apologized for making a mistake. And the judge said, confession is good for the soul. Then the prosecutor Greg Andres said, I think my soul's in pretty good shape - or should be after this process.
JOHNSON: In other words, everyone's been sort of beat up, including those of us who've been sitting on those hard benches for days on end.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. You know, kudos to you for doing that. So preview this coming week. What are you going to be watching for?
JOHNSON: We could have closing arguments by both sides as early as Tuesday. That's a chance for lawyers to put all the pieces together for this jury. Then the six men and six women of this jury are going to get instructions from the judge, and they'll go back to their jury room to deliberate in secret. No way to tell how long that's going to take because there are 18 counts in this case and lots of documents. The judge has repeatedly reminded jurors not to talk about this case amongst themselves or anyone else until all the evidence is in and not to form opinions until it's done. We could find out by the end of this coming week exactly what this jury thinks.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thank you so much.
JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.