Paul Manafort Enters Second Day Of Trial

Aug 1, 2018
Originally published on August 1, 2018 7:28 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is well underway despite only being in its second day. And as we'll hear, President Trump has had a lot to say about the trial. Manafort faces charges of bank and tax fraud. The jury has already heard from the prosecution that Manafort led a lavish life and allegedly considered himself above the law. The defense says that Manafort put his financial affairs in the hands of his former partner Rick Gates, whom he trusted.

NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has again spent the day at the federal courthouse in northern Virginia. Hey there, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So I understand there was a statement today that caused quite a reaction regarding Rick Gates. What happened?

JOHNSON: Yeah. So the judge in this case, T.S. Ellis, interrupts lawyers from both sides very often, prompting them to hurry up. And at one point he interrupted the government to say, you're going to offer Mr. Gates to testify, aren't you? And one of the prosecutors in the case, Uzo Asonye, said, he may testify in this case, your honor, he may not. Asonye wasn't committal one way or the other.

He went on to say that they are calibrating their case on a day-to-day basis trying to shorten it and did not make a commitment about whether Rick Gates, Manafort's former business partner, will take the stand. That would be important because Manafort wants to put Rick Gates on trial and point the finger of blame at Rick Gates for the many offenses - tax and bank offenses for which Manafort is charged.

CORNISH: In the meantime, tell us about the witnesses they did call and what they had to say.

JOHNSON: Yeah, sure. We zipped through many witnesses today, I think eight or nine by my count. One was Matthew Mikuska, a special agent who was involved in the search of Paul Manafort's condominium in the Alexandria, Va., area last year. Mikuska testified that contrary to reporting at the time, they knocked three times on the door and announced themselves as FBI agents before opening the door and that they did not come in the middle of the night. They came shortly after 6 a.m. Mikuska did initially get the date of the search wrong, which was kind of a problem. But he eventually cleaned that up.

And then, Audie, we had a stream of witnesses to testify about how Paul Manafort spent some of the money he allegedly failed to report as income. There were landscaping people, a real estate agent and then perhaps most memorably a couple of people representing luxury men's wear companies. A couple of them wore amazing, immaculately tailored suits, so amazing that one of the defense lawyers assigned to cross-examine them, Jay Nanavati, had to say, I apologize in advance for my suit, which kind of broke up the whole courtroom.

CORNISH: What was the atmosphere like?

JOHNSON: You know, things have been moving very, very rapidly in this case, so rapidly that after the jury went on a break, outside the presence of the jury one of the prosecutors said, we are moving more quickly than we anticipated. The government thinks it can wrap up its case by next week. The judge responded that he was very happy to hear that. So this case may last even fewer than three weeks as predicted.

As for the atmosphere, the judge was quite cranky with both sides interrupting the government on numerous occasions, trying to maintain that it's not a crime to be a rich person and in fact in America that's celebrated as success - a success, not a criminal offense. The judge also has barred government and the defense from using the word oligarch, which is interesting in this case because Manafort is alleged to have done a lot of work for Ukrainian oligarchs over the years. But the jury is not going to hear that word if the judge has his mind.

CORNISH: And short time left. When the president tweets, is there a worry that that could affect jurors in the trial?

JOHNSON: Not a worry at this point. The judge has instructed the jury to stay off social media, stop listening to the radio, I'm sorry to say watching television and even stop talking to their family members about what they are seeing and hearing in court.

CORNISH: That's NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.