Jurors to begin deliberations tomorrow in Manafort trial

Paul Manafort lied to keep himself flush with cash and later to maintain his luxurious lifestyle when his income dropped off, prosecutors told jurors Wednesday as closing arguments ended at the former Trump campaign chairman's financial fraud trial.

Trump's former campaign chair chose not to testify or call any witnesses in his defence

Paul Manafort is shown in a November 2017 file photo. His trial in Virginia is the the first to emerge from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation but the case relates to financial fraud rather than possible Russian election interference. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Paul Manafort lied to keep himself flush with cash and later to maintain his luxurious lifestyle when his income dropped off, prosecutors told jurors Wednesday as closing arguments ended at the former Trump campaign chairman's financial fraud trial. 

Jurors will begin deliberations Thursday.

In his defence, Manafort's attorneys told jurors to question the entirety of the prosecution's case as they sought to tarnish the credibility of Manafort's longtime protege — and government witness — Rick Gates.

The conflicting strategies played out over several hours of argument that capped nearly three weeks of testimony in the first courtroom test for special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The verdict, now in the hands of 12 jurors, will provide a measure of the special counsel's ability to make charges stick.

And while the case doesn't involve allegations of Russian election interference or possible co-ordination by the Trump campaign, it has been closely watched by U.S. President Donald Trump as he seeks to publicly undermine Mueller's probe through a barrage of attacks on Twitter and through his lawyers.

In the closing arguments, prosecutor Greg Andres said the government's case boils down to "Mr. Manafort and his lies."

"When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort's money, it is littered with lies," Andres said as he made his final pitch that the jury should weigh a trove of evidence presented over the past few weeks and find Manafort guilty of 18 felony counts.

Defence tries to blunt testimony

Attorneys for Manafort, who is accused of tax evasion and bank fraud, spoke next, arguing against his guilt by saying he left the particulars of his finances to other people, including Gates. 

Manafort's trial is the first to emerge from Mueller's Russia investigation, but it does not relate to Russian election interference or possible co-ordination with the Trump campaign — the main topics of Mueller's probe.

Neither Manafort nor Gates has been charged in connection with his Trump campaign work. But Mueller's legal team says it discovered Manafort hiding millions of dollars in income as a result of the ongoing probe.

Richard Westling, centre, seen here entering Federal Court on Monday, made closing arguments for the defence in the Manafort trial. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

Defence attorney Richard Westling told jurors during his own closing arguments that the fact that Manafort employed a team of accountants, bookkeepers and tax preparers shows he wasn't trying to hide anything. The lawyer appeared to be trying to blunt the effect of testimony from some of the people who handled​ Manafort's finances, including his bookkeeper, who said he concealed offshore bank accounts and lied to them.

Westling said the evidence against Manafort has been cherry-picked by Mueller's team and doesn't show jurors the full picture.

"None of the banks involved reported Manafort's activities as suspicious," he said.

Westling questioned whether prosecutors had shown criminal intent by the former Trump campaign chairman and pointed to documents and emails that the defence lawyer said may well show numerical errors or sloppy bookkeeping but no overt fraud.

During the prosecution's arguments, jurors took notes as Manafort primarily directed his gaze at a computer screen where documents were shown. The screen showed emails written by Manafort that contained some of the most damning evidence that he was aware of the fraud and not simply a victim of underlings who managed his financial affairs.

Andres highlighted one email in which he said Manafort sent an inflated statement of his income to bank officers reviewing a loan application. He highlighted another in which Manafort acknowledged his control of one of more than 30 holding companies in Cyprus that prosecutors say he used to funnel more than $60 million US he earned advising politicians in Ukraine.

Prosecutors say Manafort falsely declared some of that money to be loans rather than income to keep from paying taxes on it.

"Ladies and gentlemen, a loan is not income, and income is not a loan. You do not need to be a tax expert to understand this," Andres said.

Not a 'Boy Scout'

The government says Manafort hid at least $16 million in income from the IRS between 2010 and 2014 by disguising the Ukraine money as loans and hiding it in foreign banks. Then, after his money in Ukraine dried up, they allege, he defrauded banks by lying about his income on loan applications and concealing other financial information, such as mortgages.

Manafort chose not to testify or call any witnesses in his defence. His lawyers have tried to blame their client's financial mistakes on Gates, calling him a liar and philanderer.

Rick Gates, Manafort's former right-hand man, testified that he organized fraudulent paperwork both with and without Manafort's knowledge. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Gates, who struck a plea deal with prosecutors, was the government's key witness and has provided much of the drama of the trial so far. During testimony, he was forced to admit embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort and conducting an extramarital affair.

In the prosecution's earlier arguments, Andres said the government isn't asking jurors to like Gates or take everything he said at "face value." Andres said the testimony of other witnesses and the hundreds of documents are enough to convict Manafort on tax evasion and bank fraud charges.

"Does the fact that Mr. Gates had an affair 10 years ago make Mr. Manafort any less guilty?" Andres asked, noting that Manafort didn't choose a "Boy Scout" to aid a criminal scheme.