Paul Manafort’s Defense Calls No Witnesses

I’ve been called for jury duty a few times but have always been rejected. Having never sat on a jury, I can’t say for sure how I’d feel about it if the defense decided to rest without calling any witnesses or having their client testify.  If the person is truly innocent, then why not try to demonstrate that in some way beyond simple cross-examination of government witnesses? I guess it’s much harder for me to accept not having a defense at all than to grant the accused the right not to speak in their own defense. I know that if I were falsely accused, my lawyers would have trouble convincing me to remain silent, but they’d never get away with resting my case without making one at all.

But that’s what Paul Manafort’s lawyers did today.

Defense attorneys for Paul Manafort rested their case on Tuesday without calling any witnesses or having the former Trump campaign chairman testify in the trial where he is accused of bank and tax fraud.

At the same time, the judge overseeing the trial rejected Manafort’s motion to throw out the 18 charges against him.

Manafort, who has watched silently as the case against him was argued in federal court, was asked by Judge T.S. Ellis whether he wanted to testify in his own defense.

“No, sir,” he replied.

Asked whether he was satisfied with the advice he’d gotten from his attorneys, Manafort said, “I am, your honor.”

Ellis indicated that prosecutors and Manafort’s lawyers would likely make closing arguments to the 12-person jury on Wednesday. After that, the jury will begin its deliberations behind closed doors.

Obviously, the defense will say that the government has not met the burden of proof and suggest that their case is so weak that it doesn’t require rebuttal from expert witnesses. Maybe there’s a juror who is unwilling to convict Manafort because he or she has been convinced it’s all part of an elaborate Deep State plot to nullify the 2016 election. That would result in a mistrial, which is almost certainly the best outcome Manafort can hope for. I believe the documents in this case speak for themselves and there’s not really any ambiguity about Manafort’s guilt. An outright acquittal seems like an impossibility.

Assuming Manafort is convicted, I’m not sure much will change. He’s already in prison. He still faces even more severe charges in Washington D.C., where he’ll presumably have a less sympathetic judge and a tougher jury pool. Will a conviction in Virginia and the certainty of an extended prison sentence change Manafort’s calculus and lead him to seek a cooperation deal?

It’s possible, but he seems to be either afraid to cooperate or holding out hope of a pardon, or perhaps both of those things. Getting convicted would not logically change how he feels or his overall strategy.

In any case, I think if I was sitting on his jury and had any doubt about his guilt, his lack of a defense would seal the deal for me. How about you?

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.