With closing arguments wrapped, Manafort case goes to jury

PHOTO: Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at US District Court on June 15, 2018 in Washington, D.C.PlayBrendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Jury deliberations continue in Paul Manafort trial

Closing arguments concluded Wednesday in the financial crimes trial of Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for Donald Trump, and the case is now in the hands of 12 jurors who will begin deliberations Thursday morning to decide Manafort's fate.

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In their closing argument, prosecutors attempted to paint Manafort as a liar and a schemer, calling attention to the mountain of financial records provided to the court.

"When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort's money, it's littered with lies,” special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres said in federal court on Wednesday, telling jurors that Manafort is “not above the law.”

Manafort is on trial in Alexandria, Virginia, where special counsel Robert Mueller has accused Manafort of shielding millions of dollars in off-shore bank accounts from American tax-collectors. During his closing arguments, Andres reminded jurors of the $60 million Manafort is accused of hiding in 31 separate bank accounts.

"He lied to his tax preparers, he lied to his bookkeeper, because he wanted to hide that money and avoid paying taxes," Andres added.

PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs Capitol Hill following a closed door meeting in Washington, June 21, 2017. Andrew Harnik/AP, FILE
Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs Capitol Hill following a closed door meeting in Washington, June 21, 2017.

Andres wrapped his closing statement after 90 minutes, then it was on to the defense.

Speaking for Manafort’s defense team, attorney Richard Westling implored jurors to see their client as a respected political operative and successful businessman, highlighting Manafort’s work on numerous presidential campaigns. Westling argued that the volume of documents provided by the special counsel did not amount to meaningful evidence of guilt.

“Sitting here today, Mr. Manafort is innocent and he will continue to be innocent until you render a decision,” Westling said. “If you are thinking this evidence adds up to something, you shouldn’t.”

Taking over for the defense, lead attorney Kevin Downing returned to the matter of Rick Gates, casting blame on the prosecution’s star witness and longtime business associate of Manafort. Downing reminded jurors of Gates’ confession to embezzling money from Manafort and engaging in multiple extra-marital affairs.

“The government was so desperate to make a case against Mr. Manafort, it made a deal with Mr. Gates,” Downing said, accusing Gates “fabricating” his testimony to make a deal with Mueller.

PHOTO: This courtroom sketch depicts Rick Gates, right, testifying during questioning by prosecutor Greg Andres, standing at left, as Manaforts trial continues at federal court in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 7, 2018.Dana Verkouteren via AP
This courtroom sketch depicts Rick Gates, right, testifying during questioning by prosecutor Greg Andres, standing at left, as Manafort's trial continues at federal court in Alexandria, Va., Aug. 7, 2018.

Gates pleaded guilty in February to charges of conspiracy against the United States and lying to federal authorities. Having initially been charged alongside Manafort, Gates has since cooperated with the special counsel as part of their investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 campaign.

Prior to the defense team’s closing statements, special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres sought to downplay Gates’ role in the trial, asking jurors to look at the paper trail.

“The government is not asking you to take everything Mr. Gates said at face value… we are not asking you to like him,” Andres said, adding, “The star witness, in this case, is the documents.”

If found guilty, Manafort, 69, faces a prison sentence of up to 305 years. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Special counsel prosecutors rested their case on Monday after bringing more than two dozen accountants and associates of Manafort to the stand. On Tuesday, Manafort’s defense team declined to mount a defense or bring any witnesses to the stand.

After the judge instructed jurors Wednesday afternoon, the 12-person panel will deliberate and return their verdict.

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