Politics

3 Takeaways as Prosecution Rests Case in Paul Manafort Trial

Trial has put potential tax reporting loophole under the microscope

Media outlets set up microphones on July 31 in front of the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., where President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is standing trial. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s prosecution team on Monday rested its case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, wrapping up its evidence and witness testimony in just 10 days.

The defense will decide whether it will call any witnesses Tuesday morning. If it does not, both sides are expected to deliver closing arguments. Then the jury will decide Manafort’s fate.

The former political consulting titan is being tried on 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud and faces a maximum 305-year prison sentence if the Eastern Virginia jury finds him guilty.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from Day 10 of the trial:

1. Manafort puts potential tax reporting loophole under the microscope

For the tax evasion charges against Manafort from 2012 to 2014, the prosecutors’ case hinges on whether Manafort willfully failed to report on his tax returns that he owned foreign bank accounts.

Manafort, through his political consulting firms (first, Davis Manafort Partners, then DMP International), controlled 32 foreign bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United Kingdom, set up by Cypriot lawyer Kypros Chrysostomides, referred to in court as “Dr. K” due to his name’s difficult pronunciation and spelling for non-Greek speakers.

Watch: What I Saw That You Couldn’t See at the Manafort Trial, Week 2

To be required to file a report of foreign bank and financial accounts, or FBAR, a person must own more than 50 percent of the entity with foreign accounts. For the years 2012 through 2014, Manafort owned a flat 50 percent of his firms, the defense has argued — just under the threshold that would trigger an FBAR requirement.

But Manafort’s wife, Kathleen, owned the other 50 percent, and the couple have filed joint tax returns for decades, U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye has argued. The rules for filing an FBAR state that a person can have ownership both “directly” and “indirectly.”

Neither the prosecution, the defense, nor the judge has explicitly said whether Kathleen Manafort’s 50 percent ownership of DMP and DMP International constitutes an indirect ownership by her husband.

The jury’s decision ultimately comes down to whether they believe that Manafort knew he was supposed to file FBARs for his income from DMP and DMP International and that he willfully hid millions of dollars in income overseas in accounts he did not report.

2. Witnesses from The Federal Savings Bank have been especially icy toward Manafort’s lawyers — we finally found out why

Witnesses from The Federal Savings Bank — where Manafort was approved for two loans worth $16 million in 2016 — have appeared especially frosty toward his defense lawyers during cross-examination.

On Friday, senior vice president Dennis Raico appeared distrustful of defense attorney Richard Westling, answering his questions more slowly, with a noticeable measure of frustration and annoyance.

James Brennan, a vice president who manages the bank’s in-house portfolio loans, sat for much of his cross-examination Monday with his left arm casually slung over the back of his seat. He delivered distinctly curt answers to Westling’s questions.

On Monday, we were finally given a clue why TFSB employees might bear grudges against Manafort.

The bank lost $11.8 million on the loans and dipped into its reserve pool to cover those losses, Brennan testified Monday to audible “oofs” from the public.

The bank has seized none of the collateral from either of the deals, Brennan said.

Westling quickly tried to qualify Brennan’s testimony, hinting that TFSB was actively pursuing the collateral — much of which comprised some of Manafort’s properties — but that the government had frozen those assets.

Is it possible the bank is going after the collateral? Westling asked Brennan.

“Anything is possible,” Brennan said with an air of sarcasm.

3. The Manafort trial is only the beginning of Steve Calk’s troubles

Multiple witnesses have now accused Steve Calk, the CEO and chairman of The Federal Savings Bank, of ramming through Manafort’s loan applications against the judgement of his senior staff and two other “credit committee” members who ultimately decide whether the bank signs off on a deal.

Raico testified Friday that Calk, who was “interested in politics,” and Manafort met privately for lunch on multiple occasions as Calk took it upon himself to personally shepherd Manafort’s loan applications through the bank’s procedures, a situation that was “outside the norm.”

In August, Manafort emailed Raico asking for Calk’s résumé.

And three days after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president in November 2016, Calk called Raico asking him to check in with Manafort to see if Calk was a candidate for the Treasury or Housing and Urban Development posts.

Raico did not follow through on the request, he said, because it made him “very uncomfortable” and because he believed Calk had pushed Manafort’s loan requests through as a quid pro quo for a political appointment.

Brennan testified Monday that he faced implicit pressure from Calk to get the deal with Manafort done.

In his role at the bank, Brennan is responsible for grading potential loans — the lower the score, the more sure he is that it will be repaid.

Before he had even rated the loan deal with Manafort, Calk had decided that the deal was getting done, Brennan testified, even though if it was up to him or Calk’s other two credit committee members, TFSB would have pulled out of the deal over multiple discrepancies in Manafort’s reported income and a $300,000 debt that he owed on his American Express card from a New York Yankees season ticket purchase.

Because Calk had predetermined that TFSB would make the loan, Brennan said he felt pressure to give it the bare minimum rating for approval, a 4, to avoid raising red flags for federal regulators who sniff out improper loans.

“It closed because Mr. Calk wanted it to close,” said Brennan, who testified with immunity from prosecution.

Pressed by Judge T.S. Ellis III whether he was implicating himself for giving the loan an “average” grade he knew it did not deserve, Brennan said yes.

Mueller’s team hinted in a sidebar conference with Ellis and Manafort’s lawyers Friday that Calk is facing more scrutiny than the allegations heard so far at Manafort’s trial.

“Mr. Calk is a co-conspirator, and he participated in the conspiracy to defraud the bank,” prosecutor Greg Andres said at the sidebar, in a transcript unsealed over the weekend.

But Calk’s dealings with Manafort disclosed during the course of witness testimony and evidence this trial are only the tip of the iceberg, Andres indicated.

“Mr. Calk has other criminal liability aside from this bank fraud,” he said.

The defense has not admitted a quid pro quo agreement between Calk and Manafort, though they have thrown TFSB under the bus, saying that it was the bank’s responsibility to properly vet whether or not Manafort’s finances should have qualified him for the loans to begin with.

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