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Judge: 'Probably wrong' to scold prosecutors

Judge T.S. Ellis admitted he was "probably wrong" for scolding prosecutors during the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. CNN's Kara Scannell reports.

Posted: Aug 10, 2018 9:07 AM
Updated: Aug 10, 2018 9:09 AM

Day eight of Paul Manafort's criminal trial in Virginia federal court should be known as bank fraud day. From morning until after 5 pm, four bank employees and a representative from Airbnb outlined how the former Trump campaign chairman allegedly lied to obtain more than $4 million in loans for real estate.

Here are four takeaways from the day in court Thursday:

1. Bank fraud day

The day's testimony by witnesses consisted largely of New Yorkers and a Californian with matter-of-fact command of their jobs and a willingness to emphasize the alarming nature of lying on loan applications.

One after the other, the bankers told the court they had needed to know if Manafort was lying to them in any way. If they had known about how he actually used the properties he pledged as collateral and what he truly was making from lobbying, he wouldn't have gotten nearly as much money from them, they testified.

RELATED: Judge admits error in Manafort trial

The courtroom action turned technical at times. Though the witnesses had engaging personalities on the stand, their role for the prosecution Thursday was to explain the intricacies of banking policy, underwriting assessment and the paperwork incumbent upon a borrower when getting loans.

Still, Peggy Miceli, a vice president with Citizens Bank in its underwriting department, had the understatement of the day.

When Manafort's business didn't have the funds to get the loan he wanted from Citizens Bank, Miceli sent her colleagues "the sad face," she said. ☹.

That frown turned upside down less than a month later, when Manafort allegedly made a $1.5 million loan to himself disappear. Citizens Bank gave him $3.4 million.

2. Ellis subdued

A running theme throughout the trial has been Judge T.S. Ellis' insistence that the prosecutors move more quickly and pare down their presentation. At times, he's rebuked the prosecutors' choices while the jury watched. Once, in a conversation shielded from the jurors, he accused a prosecutor who disagreed with him of having tears in his eyes.

On Thursday, Ellis never reached the level of anger he had had in previous days. To start off the morning, he even told the jury to disregard an accusation he had made earlier, that the prosecution had disobeyed him about a witness.

"Put aside any criticism. I was probably wrong in that," he told the jury. "This robe doesn't make me anything other than human."

Ellis, who's been a federal judge for 31 years, did get in one cutting remark, however, as a Citizens Bank employee testified about loan applications they received for Manafort. The bank never extended that loan, though it forms one charge of bank fraud conspiracy in the case.

"You might want to spend time on a loan that was granted," Ellis said.

3. Flying through the trial

Among the 18 charges Manafort faces in Virginia federal court, the nine bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy counts carry steep possible prison sentences. If found guilty on those charges, Manafort could be sentenced to a maximum of 30 years for each. That's 270 years max.

So it's somewhat surprising -- even with Ellis' need for speed -- that the prosecutors sprinted down the home stretch of their case.

They say Thursday was the penultimate day of their presentation of witnesses and evidence. In all, the trial will likely have nine witnesses over two days testifying about bank fraud -- and bank fraud alone.

The five -- four of whom were bankers, from Citizens Bank and the Banc of California -- who spoke to the jury Thursday flew through their tales of when Manafort had applied for loans, sent them documents and received them.

Prosecutors could have moved even faster Thursday if Manafort's defense team had not tripped up their plan with its own extensive questioning of the witnesses. The defense team appeared to want to show the banks had been inattentive or that Manafort wasn't the only person to blame when he received the loans. And several times, defense attorney Jay Nanavati couldn't find copies of the evidence he wanted witnesses to discuss. Ten minutes before the day's end, he asked the Special Counsel's Office to dig through a stack of document boxes in the corner of the room. When they finally emerged with the paper Nanavati sought, he realized it wasn't what he thought it was.

Friday's lineup is set to discuss another $16 million Manafort received in bank loans from yet another bank, Federal Savings Bank. Highlights may include witnesses speaking about a sizable Yankees season-ticket debt and Manafort's attempts to place a bank executive with Federal Savings Bank high in the Trump administration and campaign.

4. How it all fits together

The Federal Savings Bank allegations to be presented Friday will button up the broad alleged scheme of money funneling and income supplementation that prosecutors have explained over the last week and a half.

Perhaps the bank fraud witnesses spent so much less time testifying compared with others earlier in the trial because they were at the end of the line, representative of the victims -- the bank shareholders -- collectively talked into lending millions that couldn't be secured.

In many ways, the prosecution's presentation has been chronological, with some of the alleged bank fraud happening as recently as 2016, a year or more after Manafort's Ukrainian political lobbying income sank to zero.

The prosecutors' presentation would also fit nicely on a left-to-right flow chart, the likes of which have already been shown in court:

At the left of the page, Ukrainians would start to send money to Manafort's offshore bank accounts. He pushes the money into luxury good and service vendors selling him custom jackets and home renovations. He then fails to tell the IRS, his bookkeeper, accountants and other government agencies about that foreign money or where it's kept.

We arrive at the bank fraud witness group when the Ukrainian money stops coming in and Manafort seeks new sources so he can stay a millionaire.

Or so the prosecution and the 23 witnesses so far say.

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