A day after jurors were seated and opening statements were delivered, the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort ripped along quickly Wednesday as U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis in Virginia prodded the special counsel’s prosecutors to not waste time.
The judge’s efforts appear to be paying off. Prosecutor Uzo Asonye said his side was “running ahead of schedule” and planned to rest its case next week. Just before adjourning for the day, Ellis said he was hoping the case could conclude much earlier than expected.
“We’re on track to do that,” said Greg Andres, a prosecutor in Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s office. Manafort is charged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia with various tax and bank allegations tied to his work as a lobbyist and consultant.
Ellis at other points Wednesday bristled at what he perceived to be extraneous attempts to paint Manafort as a lavish spender. As the government went through Manafort’s nearly $1 million worth of spending at one custom clothing store between 2010 and 2014, Ellis said, “Enough is enough.”
“The government doesn’t want to prosecute someone because they wear nice clothes, right?” he asked. Andres later defended the special counsel’s approach, telling the judge that the questioning was not meant to show lavish spending but rather the income Manafort is alleged to have misrepresented.
What follows are several highlights from Day 2 at the Manafort trial.
A need for speed. How the judge is keeping the trial rolling.
Ellis repeatedly blocked the prosecution’s attempts to display—or “publish”—evidence on monitors in the courtroom. His message, on many instances, was that prosecutors could achieve through witness questioning what they hoped to accomplish with a more time-consuming dive into documents.
At one point, Ellis said prosecutors were burdening the trial with “documentation that no one needs to look at because the facts are not disputed.”
One witness in particular appeared to appreciate Ellis’ urgency.
Steve Jacobson, a retired Hamptons contractor, had gone over the more than $3 million in home improvements he’d made for Manafort when Andres turned to a pool house built at the former Trump campaign chairman’s Bridgehampton, New York, residence. Before Jacobson could answer, Ellis cut in to ask whether the project had been accounted for in his earlier answer about the amount he’d billed Manafort between 2010 and 2014.
“Yes,” Jacobson answered.
“Let’s go on,” Ellis said.
“Thank you, your honor,” Jacobson said.
Earlier, while questioning another witness about Manafort’s suit purchases, prosecutors asked to display the logo for custom clothing store Alan Couture.
“Really? It takes publication?” Ellis asked. “No, let’s move on.”
Know a guy named Rick Gates?
Jurors heard a lot about Rick Gates on Monday, as the defense opened its case by pinning responsibility on Manafort’s one-time business partner. Thomas Zehnle, a lawyer for Manafort, said his client made a critical error in placing too much trust in Gates. (Gates, himself a former top Trump campaign aide, pleaded guilty in February in a related case in Washington’s federal trial court.)
Prosecutors, responding to the defense, have pressed government witnesses about any engagement with Gates. The reoccurring response: Never met or dealt with him.
Jacobson said that, when he had issues related to home renovations, he “dealt with Paul directly.” Another witness, Manafort’s longtime neighbor Wayne Holland, said he never met Gates but was “familiar” with his appearances in news coverage of the special counsel’s case.
Prosecutors later this week are expected to call tax preparers and accountants.
Best-dressed, and other light moments.
Wednesday’s questioning featured one witness likely go down as the most dapper of Manafort’s trial.
Wearing a pocket square and tailored suit, Maximilian Katzman said Manafort was a regular customer of Alan Couture during his years managing the New York custom clothing store. Prosecutors called Katzman to show how Manafort paid for luxury items through international wire transfers from an account in Cyprus.
During the questioning, Ellis chimed in to ask, “Are all your clients important?”
“I don’t want to answer that,” Katzman replied, before describing Manafort as one of the store’s top-five customers.
Katzman caught the attention of many in the courtroom—including one of Manafort’s defense lawyers, Jay Nanavati of Washington’s Kostelanetz & Fink. As he stood up for the cross-examination, Nanavati began: “Mr. Katzman, first I’d like to apologize for the suit I’m wearing.” The remark drew laughter.
Nanavati found another moment for levity questioning Holland, who was questioned by prosecutors about his role helping Manafort close a real estate deal.
On cross-examination, he asked whether Holland would consider Manafort one of his “nicest neighbors.”
“I would say yes,” Holland answered.