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Prosecutors Contest Treatment by Judge in Paul Manafort Trial
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10 Aug 2018 12:38 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Paul Manafort (Image source: Screenshot)


We're past the excitement in the Paul Manafort trial of Rick Gates' testimony, and now have the financial testimony to muddle through as the prosecution works to prove Manafort committed bank and tax fraud. But what's keeping the trial interesting is the judge's continual admonishment of the prosecution. By Thursday they'd had enough and let him know.

There isn't even the excitement of learning about the back story of Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, as while this case developed out of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, those charges are being saved for a trial that will start next month. This trial just happens to be all about the president's one-time campaign chairman committing bank and tax fraud.

But the trial is dragging on through multiple witnesses attesting to Manafort's lavish lifestyle, how he raised the money, where he stored the money, and the illegal things he did to get more money. It has prompted U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis III to tell the prosecution numerous times to speed it up.

On Wednesday the prosecution put IRS agent Michael Welch on the stand even though he'd been sitting in the courtroom observing throughout the trial. Ellis said, "I thought we excluded witnesses" and told the prosecutors they "need to ask specifically" the next time.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye said he'd check the transcript, but he thought they had asked the judge for permission to have Welch be an expert witness and sit it on the trial.

"Let me be clear: I don't care what the transcript says. Maybe I made a mistake. But I want you to remember don't do that again. When I exclude witnesses, I mean everybody," he fumed.

Bearing in mind that this was a verbal volley that the jury was privy to, on Thursday morning prosecutors filed a motion asking Ellis for a "curative instruction" to the jury about the incident from the day before.

Attached to the motion was a copy of the transcript from the first day of the trial where it showed the prosecution asking Ellis to allow the IRS agent to stay in the courtroom. The judge had replied, "Alright."

"The Court's reprimand of government counsel suggested to the jury — incorrectly — that the government had acted improperly and in contravention of Court's rules," reported the motion. "This prejudice should be cured."

Once the jury was seated that day, the judge addressed them, saying it appeared he may have been wrong to criticize the prosecution but also allowed he hadn't checked the transcript.

"I was probably wrong in that. But like any human, and this robe doesn't make me anything other than human, I sometimes make mistakes. And I may have made a mistake there, and any criticism to counsel should be put entirely aside," said Ellis.

To Ellis's credit, he knows his shortcomings. "Judges should be patient. They made a mistake when they confirmed me," he said on Wednesday after another dispute. "I'm not very patient, so don't try my patience."

Yet, this didn't stop him from trying to hurry the prosecution along on Thursday, even after he had addressed the jury about his "mistake."

The prosecution presented testimony of Manafort applying for a $5.5 million loan that was never granted, according to a bank employee. "You might want to spend time on a loan that was granted," Ellis told the prosecutors.

Asonye again defended the prosecution. "Your Honor," he said, "this is a charged count in the indictment," explaining that the witness's testimony was explaining one of the charges against Manafort. 

Friday the prosecution expects they will rest their case, leading to questions of whether Ellis will be just as strict with the defense.




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