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Judge admits error in Manafort trial

Posted: 8:59 AM, Aug 09, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-09 14:59:28Z

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has repeatedly clashed in the Paul Manafort case with the Judge T.S. Ellis, who has refused to let prosecutors display photos of Manafort's luxury purchases, urged them to hurry up their questions and has even reprimanded one lawyer for being impolite and not looking at the judge while speaking to him.

But on Thursday, Ellis admitted he was wrong on one point, when he criticized prosecutors for having one of their witnesses, an expert IRS agent, in the room to hear other witness testimony.

Prosecutors had reminded Ellis following his scolding in front of the jury they had discussed allowing IRS revenue agent Michael Welch to sit in the courtroom.

 

"Put aside any criticism. I was probably wrong in that," Ellis said to kick off the trial proceedings Thursday morning. "This robe doesn't make me anything other than human."

Welch testified that Manafort used his foreign income for purchases that included a yacht, horseback riding, Italian villa rental and cosmetic dentistry.

One of the more interesting dynamics in the trial of Donald Trump's former campaign chairman has been the skirmishes between the judge and prosecutors. While many of them have been out of earshot of the jury, the judge has repeatedly expressed frustration with how the prosecution had presented its case against Manafort.

When Mueller's team focused on Manafort's lavish purchases, Ellis declared that it was not a crime to be rich, refusing to allow prosecutors to display pictures in the courtroom of his $15,000 ostrich jacket and other big-ticket items.

And in one remarkable exchange that the jury did not hear, Ellis told prosecutor Greg Andres to "look at me when you're talking to me," and then suggested Andres had tears in his eyes.

"There are not tears in my eyes, judge," Andres responded.

"Well, they're watery," Ellis shot back.

At times, Ellis has also sided against the defense team, such as when he didn't require former Manafort deputy Rick Gates to answer a question on Wednesday about whether he had four extramarital affairs, not just the one he disclosed the day before.

Prosecution nears the finish line

Prosecutors are nearing the end of their case against Manafort.

Mueller's team expects to call another eight witnesses before concluding its case and is on track to wrap up by Friday.

The remaining witnesses include bankers and others familiar with Manafort's real estate portfolio and debts, and they're expected to dive into the gritty details of the prosecution's case on bank and mortgage fraud.

The case is the first that Mueller's team has brought to court as part of its investigation into Russian election interference in 2016. While the charges aren't related to Manafort's time on the campaign, the trial is being eyed closely by the President and his team as they negotiate a potential interview between Trump and Mueller's team.

Manafort is charged with 18 counts of tax and banking crimes and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The first witness prosecutors called Thursday -- their 19th in the case -- was Melinda James, a mortgage loan assistant from Citizens Bank in New York, a bank that prosecutors say received false documents from Manafort's associates when they sought a mortgage on a property in New York.