Paul Manafort won’t present any witnesses of his own to the jury, his lawyers told the judge Tuesday morning.
US District Judge T.S. Ellis III then called Manafort to the stand to confirm that Manafort understood his constitutional right to remain silent. Ellis asked if Manafort wished to testify.
“No, sir,” Manafort replied.
The announcement came after Ellis denied Manafort’s request to acquit him of all the charges. Manafort’s lawyers had argued the government failed to show that one of the banks Manafort is accused of defrauding, Federal Savings Bank, relied on information about his finances that prosecutors say was false or fabricated. More generally, the defense argued prosecutors failed to show Manafort acted willfully when it came to the rest of the bank fraud, tax, and failure to report foreign bank account charges.
“In the end, I think the defendant makes a significant argument about materiality,” Ellis said. “But in the end, I think materiality is an issue for the jury.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office rested its case Monday, putting on two final witnesses, one of whom had already testified and was brought back for a handful of questions.
On Tuesday, the lawyers spent about two hours in a closed proceeding before the judge allowed the press and members of the public into the courtroom. The often loquacious judge has not given any indication as to what the sealed issue is about.
The lawyers spent Tuesday afternoon discussing the final set of instructions that the judge will read to the jury before they go back to deliberate. Prosecutors and defense lawyers largely agreed on sections they wanted added and deleted. The government did propose a change to two instructions that concerned comments the judge made throughout the trial and questions he asked of witnesses.
The judge’s interjections throughout the trial, which were for the most part critical of the government, have been an ongoing source of tension. The government has twice asked for “curative” instructions to the jury to address comments he’s made while the jury was in the courtroom about prosecutors' handling of witnesses and evidence.
Ellis asked Assistant US Attorney Uzo Asonye if he thought the judge had made comments about witness testimony. Asonye paused. Then, his colleague Greg Andres stood up and said “Yes.” Ellis asked for examples. Andres recalled when star government witness Rick Gates — Manafort’s former associate who is now cooperating with the government — said that Manafort kept close track of his business affairs, and Ellis commented in response that Manafort wasn’t aware that Gates was stealing from him. (Gates admitted embezzling from Manafort.)
Ellis then drafted a revised version of the government’s proposed instruction, and lawyers on both sides said they had no objection. The judge did not read the text out loud. He will read the instructions to the jury before they deliberate.
Closing arguments are expected to start Wednesday morning. Lawyers on both sides previously asked for two hours each, which Ellis bristled at. On Tuesday, he urged them to reconsider — two hours was “a little excessive,” he said — and see if they could cut down their presentations to an hour and a half apiece.
Updated with additional information about court proceedings on jury instructions Tuesday afternoon.