Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.
Mueller’s team continues to flop around with no clear direction as the trial of former Trump associate Paul Manafort approaches the end of it’s first week.
A few days ago, RedState Editor Joe Cunningham wrote about the Mueller team’s attempt to publicize Paul Manafort’s clothing choices. That was clearly an shot at coloring jury perceptions while having no factual basis to the charges at hand. You can read about that here.
To be sure, anyone who wears a jacket made out of ostrich probably deserves to do hard time, but the relevance to which it played in proving Manafort a criminal was suspect at best.
Judge T.S. Ellis III agreed. He chastised the prosecution’s obsession with trying to use Manafort’s lavish lifestyle to insinuate misconduct.
While it’s part of their effort to paint Manafort as a tax scofflaw who spent big on luxury items, Ellis would not allow the photos for now.
“Enough is enough. We don’t convict people because they have a lot of money and throw it around,” he said.
The judge said the photos would seem “unnecessary, irrelevant” and potentially “prejudicial.” Further, he reminded the lawyers that Manafort “is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle, but for not reporting income on his taxes.”
He also told them to stop using the term “oligarch,” which has become a fairly loaded, biased term given it’s widespread use in the media to paint any foreigner as a sinister figure.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III specifically told prosecutors to stop using the word “oligarch” to describe wealthy Ukrainians, whose dealings with Manafort are at the heart of the fraud charges he faces in northern Virginia federal court.
The judge said the term has a “pejorative” meaning and is not relevant in this case. Further, he cautioned that using it could suggest Manafort is associated with bad people – and guilty by association.
“It’s not the American way,” the judge said. He noted that wealthy donors like George Soros or the Koch brothers also could be considered oligarchs.
Well, not to be outdone by their prior day’s work, Mueller’s team decided to screw around again.
Paul Manafort‘s third day on trial over charges of bank fraud and tax evasion was cut a bit short on Thursday after government attorneys made the same mistake twice in a row…
…Ayliff was mostly providing foundational testimony regarding the basic functions of a tax-preparation company. Prosecutors then moved on to specifics and attempted to “publish” one of Manafort’s e-file forms. Judge T.S. Ellis III‘s weariness all but amazed the courtroom as he denied the request–complete with an actual and pronounced finger-wag–before shouting: “No! You move it along!”
It only got worse as it was revealed that they had called the witness out of order and were attempting to use him as an expert despite not being noticed as such.
Composing themselves again, the prosecution moved slowly forward before asking Ayliff to define the term “financial interest.” Ayliff began to answer the question but was immediately cut off by Ellis who noted that Ayliff was not a noticed expert.
Mueller’s team of crack prosecutors then made the same mistake again.
Static filled the courtroom as the longest bench conference of the day ensued. Upon returning to Ayliff’s testimony, the jury learned that the issue had been deferred until Friday–if ever. Then, Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye asked about another term of art contained on federal tax forms.
Judge Ellis, who was already standing by this point, advised Ayliff to wait and announced the court would recess early.
After the jury left, Ellis took a few minutes to tell the press and public all about the bench conference. As it turns out, not only was Ayliff a non-noticed witness being asked to give the equivalent of expert testimony, but the prosecution and defense had already agreed on what the term “financial interest” meant. Moreover, this agreement was provided on a proposed–and approved–jury instruction.
That is, not only was Ayliff not an expert and not a noticed expert as necessitated by the Federal Rules of Evidence–but his testimony had the potential to derail an already-agreed-upon definition of the term(s) in question. This, Ellis said, could have “confused or clouded” things for the jury.
This amateur hour display finally gave Judge Ellis all he could handle for the day. He shut things down and called a lengthy bench conference, no doubt to give the Mueller’s US attorneys a nice bit of correction on their conduct.
What we are seeing so far doesn’t bode well for the prosecution. I say that because their strategy hints that they simply doesn’t have the goods. Their attempt to unduly influence the jury at multiple junctures reeks of desperation. Mueller’s team is quickly learning that proving their case in a courtroom is not as easy as illegally leaking things and having the media dutifully spin a narrative for you.
Manafort is an unsavory figure. That doesn’t mean that the government’s case here is anything other than a hastily thrown together political mess. I do not think they expected Manafort to do anything but “flip” and plead after their attempts at intimidation toward him. This is why they were caught flat-footed early on when the defense demanded document production. It’s why they requested extensions several times. It’s why the Judge saw right through their games and called them on prosecuting Manafort simply to try to get to Donald Trump.
We’ve also recently learned that Mueller’s “star witness” against Manafort, Rick Gates, might not even testify (to be sure, this is BS bluster and he will testify because they have no case without him). If that doesn’t smell like confidence, I don’t know what does.
Now that the trial has officially started, their flailing continues. Judge Ellis is apparently having none of it as he shuts down the prosecution’s attempts to turn this into a political show of guilt by insinuation. If Mueller and his team had a real, air-tight case here, would they be going about things this way? I somehow doubt it. They’ve bitten off more than they can chew and if Manafort is ultimately found not guilty, it’s going to be a big embarrassment for them.