ALEXANDRIA, Va. - After three days of dramatic and even salacious testimony in the trial of Paul Manafort, prosecutors on Thursday returned to the nuts and bolts of their case against the former Trump campaign chairman as a witness recounted how he lied to obtain millions of dollars in bank loans.
A bank employee told jurors how she discovered discrepancies in the information he put on his loan application, including holes in his claims about a New York City property. Melinda James, a Citizens Bank mortgage loan assistant, testified that Manafort had told the bank that the property would be used as a second residence, but she found it listed as a rental on a real estate website.
She said in another instance, Manafort maintained that there were no mortgages on a separate New York property when there actually were. All the while, Manafort signed paperwork indicating he understood that he could face criminal or civil penalties if he lied to the bank.
James’ testimony opened the eighth day of Manafort’s trial as prosecutors began presenting the bulk of their bank fraud case against him after spending days on the tax-evasion allegations. Attorneys for special counsel Robert Mueller also got a rare - and narrow - acknowledgment from U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III that he likely erred when he angrily confronted them a day earlier over whether he had allowed a witness to watch the trial.
The prosecution has put forward nearly 20 witnesses - including Manafort’s longtime deputy Rick Gates - and 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. But along the way they’ve not only faced an aggressive defense team, but a combative relationship with Ellis.
The judge has subjected the prosecution to repeated tongue-lashings over the pace of their questioning, their massive amount of trial exhibits and even their facial expressions. But on Thursday, Ellis told jurors he went overboard when he erupted on prosecutors 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.”