Manafort trial takes sudden turn as defense rests without calling witnesses

PHOTO: Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort stands in a court room sketch, on the opening day of his trial on charges stemming from Special Counsel Robert Muellers investigation in Alexandria, Va., on July 31, 2018. PlayBill Hennessy/Reuters, FILE
WATCH Prosecutors rest in Manafort trial

Attorneys for Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who is on trial for financial crimes in federal district court Alexandria, Virginia, will not call additional witnesses to present a defense.

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“The defense rests,” Manafort’s lead attorney Kevin Downing said in court on Tuesday.

Downing explained the decision to reporters when the court was in recess.

“Mr. Manafort just rested his case,” Downing said, “and he did so because he and his legal team believe that the government has not met its burden of proof.”

PHOTO: Defense attorney Kevin Downing makes a statement to the media after leaving federal court in the trial of former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 14, 2018.Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Defense attorney Kevin Downing makes a statement to the media after leaving federal court in the trial of former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 14, 2018.

Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, is facing a potential life sentence if he is convicted on 18 counts of financial charges, including money laundering and tax fraud.

Government prosecutors from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office rested their case on Monday after more than two weeks of testimony alleging he hid millions of dollars in offshore accounts and failed to pay taxes on that money.

The case against Manafort has barely referenced his work as President Trump’s campaign chairman and has not indicated if he may fit into the larger picture of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign that Mueller's team is investigating.

Instead, Mueller’s prosecutors have called accountants, bookkeepers, luxury vendors and Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime business associate, to lay out his alleged financial transgressions.

PHOTO: This courtroom sketch depicts Rick Gates, right, answering questions by prosecutor Greg Andres as he testifies in the trial of Paul Manafort, seated second from left, at the Alexandria Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 6, 2018.Dana Verkouteren via AP
This courtroom sketch depicts Rick Gates, right, answering questions by prosecutor Greg Andres as he testifies in the trial of Paul Manafort, seated second from left, at the Alexandria Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 6, 2018.

With no more witnesses left to be heard, the jury is expected to begin deliberations following closing arguments on Wednesday. Legal experts told ABC News this strategy is common but appeared divided on its chances for success.

“This is very common after prosecution rests to file a motion saying they didn’t meet the burden beyond a reasonable doubt,” said John Cohen, a former homeland security official and ABC New contributor. “Typically, this doesn’t work.”

Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said Manafort had "little to gain and a lot to lose" by taking the stand.

“The defense strategy from the outset has been to attack the credibility of Rick Gates and the government’s decision to bring him on as a cooperating witness. If Manafort were to testify it would give the government the chance to refocus the jury on Manafort.”

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