ALEXANDRIA, Va. >> A bank executive testified that he was pressured for political reasons to give more than $16 million in loans to Paul Manafort, as the financial fraud trial of the former Trump campaign chairman resumed Friday afternoon after unexpected delays.
The delays left uncertain whether prosecutors could wrap up their case against Manafort before the weekend, as had been expected.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III called a recess without explanation after huddling with attorneys from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office and Manafort’s lawyers for more than 20 minutes. Later after bringing court back into session, he strongly reminded jurors that they weren’t to discuss the tax evasion and bank fraud case with anyone.
It was a hiccup as prosecutors headed toward resting their case against Manafort, proceedings that have been sometimes dramatic and featured tense exchanges with Mueller’s prosecutors. Earlier Friday, the prosecutors asked Ellis to correct an earlier statement in which the judge suggested they were wasting the court’s time.
Ellis did not mention that request to the jury and didn’t offer an explanation for the hours-long delay as the trial resumed with the bank executive’s testimony.
Dennis Raico, an executive at Federal Saving Bank who testified under an immunity agreement, detailed for jurors how he grew uncomfortable by the actions of bank chairman Stephen Calk in the handling of Manafort’s loans. Prosecutors have said that despite red flags, Calk pushed through the loans for Manafort because he wanted a job in the Trump administration.
During his testimony, Raico told jurors that Calk discussed roles in the Trump campaign ahead of approving the loans and later specifically referenced being a candidate for Secretary of the Treasury or Housing and Urban Development in messages he wanted Raico to pass to Manafort. Raico said he didn’t relay Calk’s messages because he thought they were inappropriate.
Raico also told jurors that a committee that Calk led approved Manafort’s loan within one day despite underwriters finding several discrepancies between the income on his tax returns and the figures contained on financial statements he provided to the bank.
“A plus B didn’t equal C all the time,” Raico said of the discrepancies.
In previous testimony, witnesses have described other problems with documents Manafort submitted in an attempt to obtain loans.
Prosecutors had questioned a loan officer for Citizen’s Bank of New York, asking about Manafort’s 2016 loan application that the bank rejected. Ellis interjected: “You might want to spend time on a loan that was granted.” Prosecutors said Ellis’ crack “misrepresents the law” regarding bank conspiracy and “is likely to confuse the jury.” Ellis did not immediately comment on the motion.
The developments Friday came after weeks of testimony that was sometimes tedious and based on bank and other records. The prosecution is Mueller’s first of the investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, but neither Manafort nor his former protege Rick Gates has been charged in connection with their Trump campaign work.
Though substantive, untelevised and far from a Trump-style reality show, the trial has featured some drama when star witness Gates testified against his former boss.
Gates said he helped Manafort commit crimes in an effort to protect Manafort’s finances. Defense attorneys called Gates a liar interested in avoiding jail time under a plea deal. Gates was forced to admit embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort and an extramarital affair. When the two were first brought face-to-face in the courtroom, Manafort’s gaze bore down on his former protege and rarely wandered.
Testimony was replete with examples of Manafort’s lavish lifestyle and allegedly falsified documents, including loan applications.
The prosecution has called more than 20 witnesses, including Gates, and introduced a trove of documentary evidence as they’ve sought to prove Manafort defrauded banks and concealed millions of dollars in offshore bank accounts from the IRS. Along the way, they’ve not only faced an aggressive defense team but tongue-lashings, and a rare walk-back, from Ellis.
The judge has subjected the prosecution to repeated scolding over the pace of their questioning, their large amount of trial exhibits and even their facial expressions. But on Thursday, Ellis told jurors he went overboard when he erupted at prosecutors a day earlier for allowing an expert witness to remain in the courtroom during the trial.
“Put aside my criticism,” Ellis said, adding, “This robe doesn’t make me anything other than human.”