Jury members in the trial of US President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort heard closing arguments yesterday as they prepared to deliberate on 18 charges of bank fraud and lying to the IRS that could send him to prison for the rest of his life.
"When you follow the trail of Mr Manafort's money, it is littered with lies," prosecutor Greg Andres said during closing arguments to the six-woman, six-man jury in Alexandria, Virginia. "Mr Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn't."
As Andres spoke, jurors looked at him, occasionally scribbling notes in the black notebooks they have used throughout the trial. Manafort, wearing a blue suit, did not look at Andres or the jury while the prosecutor spoke.
In their final appeal to the jury, Manafort's lawyers said it defied common sense for Manafort to cheat the IRS or banks when his net worth exceeded $21 million ($31.9m).
"Given this evidence, how can we say he didn't have money?" asked Manafort lawyer Richard Westling, who also said it did not make sense for Manafort to involve so many people — bankers, accountants and a former business partner — in a scheme to hide more than US$15m in income from the IRS.
The jury was scheduled to begin deliberations today.
The trial is the first to arise from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, although the charges against the political strategist centre on his personal finances.
During the trial's first week, Trump declared Manafort was being treated unfairly, and called for the Justice Department to immediately shut down the Mueller investigation.
"The world is watching" the trial's outcome, said Ilene Jaroslaw, a former federal prosecutor, because the special counsel's office "doesn't speak, except in court". An acquittal, she said, would embolden Mueller's critics "and could put the existence of that office at risk".
"A conviction would show the special counsel has the tools to find out the truth and bring it to light," said Jarislow, now a partner at the law firm Hoguet Newman Regal & Kenney.
"It would be enormously important to everyone seeing the threats to the Justice Department and the special counsel to know we can get a measure of justice in the United States."
During closing arguments, Manafort's lawyers said the special counsel's office had gone on a fishing expedition to find evidence of financial crimes.
"Nobody came forward to say we're concerned about what we're seeing here. Not until the special counsel showed up and started asking questions," Westling said, suggesting the special counsel "cobbled together" information to "stack up the counts" against Manafort and overwhelm the jury.
Prosecutors say Manafort failed to pay taxes on US$15m from 2010 to 2014, money that was in overseas bank accounts that Manafort, now 69, kept hidden from his accountants and the IRS.
He earned that money working as a consultant for Ukraine's then-President, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych fled Ukraine in 2014 amid massive street protests, causing Manafort's income to dry up, according to witnesses.
The key witness against Manafort was his former right-hand man, Rick Gates, who provided testimony describing years of deception that he said was orchestrated by Manafort. Gates pleaded guilty in February to lying to the FBI and conspiring against the United States, and is co-operating against his former boss in hopes of getting a lesser prison sentence.
In his parting instructions to the jury yesterday, Judge T.S. Ellis cautioned its members to ignore certain factors, including some of his own statements during the trial.
After the jury was sent home, Manafort spoke briefly with his lawyers and wife before heading back to the Alexandria jail where he has been held for several weeks for violating the conditions of his release on a related case.