The jury in the trial of former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort did not reach a verdict after its first full day of deliberations.
Just before 5 p.m. ET, jurors sent a note to Judge T.S. Ellis with four questions, including one asking him if he could “redefine” for them the meaning of “reasonable doubt,” the legal threshold for acquitting a defendant. Ellis responded that the prosecutors had to prove their case not “beyond possible doubt,” but beyond “doubt based on reason.”
Jurors also asked questions related to Manafort’s tax filing and foreign bank account disclosure charges, including when a person is required to file a foreign banking disclosure, and the definition of “shelf” companies. Ellis instructed them to rely on their “collective recollection” and gave no additional explanation.
Jurors began deliberations Thursday morning. Manafort is facing 18 counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and hiding foreign bank accounts brought by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The jury will return at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
For the first time, the jurors are seeing pictures of the $15,000 ostrich jacket, $18,000 python jacket, and other high-end clothes Manafort purchased using foreign wire transfers. They are also debating the testimony of Rick Gates, Manafort’s former deputy who admitted to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they can pore over reams of emails, tax forms and financial documents that prosecutors say are the “star witness” in their case.
The courtroom drama will be nothing compared to the political earthquake the verdict will bring, regardless of which way it comes down.
The President has repeatedly called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt” that hasn’t found evidence of Russian collusion with his campaign, and Trump’s allies in and out of the White House say the special counsel should wrap things up.
“If he doesn’t get it done in the next two or three weeks we will just unload on him like a ton of bricks,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Bloomberg News.
“Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and “Public Enemy Number One,” or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement – although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russian Collusion?” Trump tweeted earlier this month about Manafort.
An acquittal would only add to criticism that Mueller’s investigation hasn’t been worth the time and expense.
A conviction, meanwhile, would allow Democrats and Mueller’s supporters to say ending the investigation would be premature given the special counsel’s results, having previously collected several guilty pleas.
It could also boost Mueller’s position as he negotiates with Trump’s lawyers over a potential interview.
‘This is a case about lies’
The trial has not touched on Russia or the 2016 election. Instead, the focus has been entirely on Manafort’s finances.
Prosecutors say that Manafort collected $65 million in his foreign accounts from 2010-2014 and spent more than $15 million on luxury purchases in the same time period, including high-end clothing, real estate purchases, landscaping and other big-ticket items.
They also alleged that Manafort lied to banks to take out more than $20 million in loans after his Ukrainian political work dried up in 2015 and accused him of hiding foreign bank accounts from federal authorities. Manafort also was charged with receiving loans from the Federal Savings Bank after one of its executives sought a position in the Trump campaign and the administration, according to prosecutors.
“Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn’t,” prosecutor Greg Andres said told jurors during closing arguments. “This is a case about lies.”
Defense attorney Richard Westling said Manafort became the special counsel’s victim in a “selective process of pulling” his financial records to concoct a narrative of an “elaborate fraud scheme.” (Ellis, who has been a colorful, and at-times controversial, presence during the trial, later instructed the jury not to consider such characterizations of Mueller’s team’s motives.)
Manafort defense attorney Kevin Downing told reporters that his client was “very happy” with how closing arguments went. “His defense team got to address the jury, point out the shortcomings in the government’s case and explain that the government has not met their burden of proof,” Downing said.
Manafort faces up to 305 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Why the questions?
Two of the questions from the jury Thursday were related to tax and banking disclosures from memorable moments in witness testimony during the trial.
Previously, Gates testified that shelf companies — the type of company Manafort allegedly used to set up bank accounts in Cyprus — were those that had been already set up on Cyprus’ corporate registry so a person would not have to create and name a new company. It’s as if they “are already on the shelf,” Gates said.
The foreign banking disclosure question from the jury goes to one of the defense team’s most effective examinations of a witness in the trial.
In that witness testimony, an agent from the federal Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said multiple people could be required to file foreign banking disclosures on an account. But she also said that if a corporation owned a foreign banking account, it could have its own filing requirement and people who owned less than 51 percent of the company may not have to file.
Manafort and his wife, Kathleen, each owned 50 percent of his Ukrainian political consulting business, DMP International, which held some of the bank accounts. DMP International itself was not indicted — though as a company it could have been, Ellis had told the jury previously.