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Paul Manafort Trial: Banker Testifies About Rushing to Approve Loans

Court resumed Friday afternoon in the Paul Manafort trial following a nearly five-hour delay with testimony from Dennis Raico, a loan officer at Federal Savings Bank, who said he was a go-between for the bank’s founder and chairman, Stephen Calk, and Manafort as the bank rushed to approve loans while Calk sought upper-level posts in the Trump administration.

Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, is accused of defrauding the bank for $16 million. He secured his first loan from the bank for $9.5 million on November 16, 2016, shortly after the presidential election.

He secured a second loan from the bank for $6.5 million on January 4, shortly before Trump’s inauguration. But the loan application and approval processes started months earlier, while Manafort was still involved in the Trump campaign.

Manafort resigned from the position in August 2016 but stayed in touch with his longtime deputy Rick Gates, who stayed with the campaign.

According to Raico, Calk also expressed interest in serving the Trump administration.

Around early August 2016, Calk had asked Manafort if he could “help serve the Trump administration,” Raico said, and Manafort asked Raico to send him Calk’s resume. The jury saw that email Friday displayed in the courtroom.

Three days after the presidential election, Calk called Raico because he hadn’t spoken with Manafort for a few days and wanted to know if he was being considered for secretary of the Treasury or secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The call and Calk’s wish for him to pass on messages to Manafort “made me very uncomfortable,” Raico testified Friday.

Mystery recess

Manafort’s case is the first that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has brought to trial, charging Manafort with 18 tax and banking crimes. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Prosecutors had intended to rest their case on Friday, although that may not happen now with the delay.

Judge T.S. Ellis returned to the courtroom at 2:22 p.m. ET, more than a half hour after they were scheduled to reconvene. After conferring with attorneys for the prosecution and defense briefly, Ellis said: “Mr. Andres, you may call your next witness.”

Prosecutor Greg Andres reminded him the jury still needed to be brought in.

The courtroom erupted in laughter.

There’s has been no word from Ellis or the attorneys about the reason for the long delay.

When the trial was supposed to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET Friday, Ellis huddled twice with lawyers for both sides while the conversation was obscured from the public with white noise. The court then recessed for nearly an hour before the lawyers and judge returned to the courtroom.

Ellis brought the 16 jurors in, stressed to them the importance of not discussing the case and told them to “keep an open mind.” He also said the court plans to “continue with evidence” presentations in the afternoon and that he would “expect to make progress.”

Another request for judge’s correction

Prosecutors for the second time want Ellis to correct a statement he made to the jury.

In a filing Friday morning, they asked Ellis to tell the jury to disregard a comment Thursday during a witness’ testimony about alleged bank fraud conspiracy that the attorneys “might want to spend time on a loan that was granted.”

The judge’s comment “misrepresents the law regarding bank fraud conspiracy, improperly conveys the court’s opinion of the facts, and is likely to confuse and mislead the jury,” prosecutors wrote.

The prosecutors want Ellis to explain that “that the jury is not to consider the court’s comment and that loans that Manafort fraudulently applied for but did not receive are relevant to the charges in the indictment.”

Ellis made the comment near the end of the day Thursday, as witness Taryn Rodriguez of Citizens Bank testified about a $5.5 million loan Manafort applied for using false statements to the bank but did not receive.

A day before, prosecutors asked Ellis to correct the record for the jury about his agreement to let an expert witness from the IRS sit in the courtroom before he testified. Ellis told the jury he was “probably wrong.” Transcripts from earlier in the trial show he clearly discussed with prosecutors the IRS witness observing the trial.