Manfort’s defense team works to raise doubt among jurors
Defense attorneys for Paul Manafort worked to convince the jury during closing arguments Wednesday that the government had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the former Trump campaign chairman committed tax and bank fraud.
Richard Westling, one of five attorneys on Manafort’s team, argued that the government handpicked witnesses and cobbled together evidence to suggest their client committed some elaborate scheme of financial fraud.
“Mr. Manafort involved his bookkeeper, his accountant, Mr. Gates and others,” he said, referring to the prosecution’s star witness, Manafort’s longtime associate, Richard Gates. “That’s not something consistent with someone committing fraud.”
Typically in fraud cases, Westling said, criminals tend to try to conceal their crimes.
Westling asked the jury why the government never called to the witness stand the loan officers Manafort allegedly defrauded when his source of income dried up after 2014.
“It’s for you to determine what that means,” he told the jury.
Manafort faces 18 criminal counts, which include charges of tax evasion, bank fraud, bank fraud conspiracy and failing to report foreign bank accounts. Prosecutors have argued that Manafort stashed millions he earned from a lucrative career as a political consultant in Ukraine in 31 offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes.
But Westling tried to plant a seed of doubt as to who set up and managed those accounts. He compared Manafort’s signature on three documents relating to the foreign accounts with Manafort’s signature on a tax form seized in a search of his home.
“These signatures do not match up,” he said.
Manafort’s team took their allotted two hours to present closing arguments, splitting the time between Westling and lead attorney Kevin Downing, who zeroed in on Gates.
He said Robert Mueller’s special counsel office was “so desperate” to make a case against their client that they struck a deal with his former aide despite the fact that Gates embezzled millions from Manafort and committed other crimes.
Downing said Manafort had trusted Gates with the keys to his financial accounts on which he was the one with the signature authority.
Downing noted that Manafort’s own accountant testified during the trial that she didn’t trust Gates, but never called Manafort directly.
“If the accountant had picked up the phone maybe none of us would be here right now,” he said.
Downing thanked the jury and asked its members to find Manafort not guilty of all charges.
On rebuttal, Prosecutor Greg Andres told the jurors that the defense wants them to believe this is a case about Gates.
He pointed to one email presented by the defense in which Manafort called Gates his “quarterback” in directing him to gather financial information he needed for a bank loan.
“Guess who the coach of that team is,” Andres said.
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