Manafort trial resumes after 5-hour delay

Posted at 12:19 PM, Aug 10, 2018

After a nearly five-hour delay, the prosecution in Paul Manafort's trial called its first witness of the day on Friday afternoon, with the lengthy delay still unexplained in the courtroom.

Judge T.S. Ellis returned to the courtroom at 2:22 p.m. ET, more than a half hour after they were scheduled to reconvene. After conferring with attorneys for the prosecution and defense briefly, Ellis said: "Mr. Andres, you may call your next witness."

Prosecutor Greg Andres reminded him the jury still needed to be brought in.

The courtroom erupted in laughter.

There's has been no word from Ellis or the attorneys about the reason for the long delay.

When the trial was supposed to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET Friday, Ellis huddled twice with lawyers for both sides, while the conversation was obscured from the public with white noise. The court then recessed for nearly an hour, before the lawyers and judge returned to the courtroom.

Ellis brought the 16 jurors in, stressed to them the importance of not discussing the case and told them to "keep an open mind." He also said the court plans to "continue with evidence" presentations in the afternoon and that he would "expect to make progress."

Prosecutors had intended to rest their case on Friday, although that may not happen now with the delay. They expect to call a pair of banking witnesses who were granted immunity to testify and an employee for the New York Yankees.

Manafort's case is the first that special counsel Robert Mueller's team has brought to trial, charging Manafort with 18 tax and banking crimes. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Another request for judge's correction

Prosecutors for the second time want Ellis to correct a statement he made to the jury.

In a filing Friday morning, they asked Ellis to tell the jury to disregard a comment Thursday during a witness' testimony about alleged bank fraud conspiracy that the attorneys "might want to spend time on a loan that was granted."

The judge's comment "misrepresents the law regarding bank fraud conspiracy, improperly conveys the court's opinion of the facts, and is likely to confuse and mislead the jury," prosecutors wrote.

The prosecutors want Ellis to explain that "that the jury is not to consider the court's comment and that loans that Manafort fraudulently applied for but did not receive are relevant to the charges in the indictment."

Ellis made the comment near the end of the day Thursday, as witness Taryn Rodriguez of Citizens Bank testified about a $5.5 million loan Manafort applied for using false statements to the bank but did not receive.

A day before, prosecutors asked Ellis to correct the record for the jury about his agreement to let an expert witness from the IRS sit in the courtroom before he testified. Ellis told the jury he was "probably wrong." Transcripts from earlier in the trial show he clearly discussed with prosecutors the IRS witness observing the trial.

Friday's witnesses

Several of the witnesses expected Friday worked at Federal Savings Bank, the Chicago bank that gave Manafort a loan and whose CEO, Stephen Calk, Manafort recommended for a senior Trump administration post after the election.

Dennis Raico took the stand first Friday afternoon. Along with James Brennan, he has been granted immunity for his testimony. A third likely witness, Andrew Chojnowski, appears to work in a senior position related to lending at Federal Savings Bank and was not on the previously published witness list.

Prosecutors allege Calk was involved in having Federal Savings Bank extend a mortgage to Manafort in 2016 based on fraudulent financial details.

Calk was named to Trump's Economic Advisory Council in August 2016, and Manafort recommended him to his former deputy Rick Gates to be Army Secretary in November 2016, although he never received a position in the Trump administration.

Mueller's team also said it intends to call to the witness stand Irfan Kirimca, who works in ticketing for the Yankees. Prosecutors have previously made reference to the Yankees tickets, Gates testified that Manafort made him sign a letter saying that Gates bought the tickets, costing more than $200,000, when he had not.