U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III criticised Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team on Wednesday for their behavior during the fraud trial of ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Ellis had to remind the prosecutors that Manafort is not on trial for simply having a “lavish lifestyle.”
Mueller’s prosecutors were trying to build their case “to paint Manafort as a tax scofflaw who failed to report money spent on luxury items — then lied to get bank loans when his foreign consulting work dried up,” Fox News reported.
However, when the prosecutors pulled out photos of Manafort’s closets, which were filled with suits and other nice articles of clothing, Ellis said that such evidence was “unnecessary.”
“Enough is enough,” he said. “We don’t convict people because they have a lot of money and throw it around.”
Ellis also ruled that a document the prosecution was trying to exhibit only showed that “Mr. Manafort had a lavish lifestyle” and the document “isn’t relevant.”
According to Fox News, there is a fairly high legal standard for excluding evidence based on irrelevance, and judges only choose to do so if the evidence “has no tendency to make any fact at issue in the case more or less likely, or that would pose a substantial risk of unfairly arousing juror bias.”
On Wednesday, the prosecution was permitted to present evidence on Manafort’s lavish spending habits. Specifically, witness Ron Wall, the chief financial officer of high-end men’s apparel store House of Bijan in Beverly Hills, California, said that Manafort spent $334,325 at the store over a three-year period.
Prosecutor Uzo Asonye told Ellis that star witness Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business partner, might not be called to the witness stand, and the decision would be made based on the evidence presented.
However, Ellis warned him Thursday that the prosecution “can’t prove conspiracy without him,” according to Fox News. And then prosecutor Greg Andres responded that they still have “every intention” for Gates to be a witness in the case.
When the discussion over the pictures of Manafort’s closets was reopened Thursday, Ellis stuck with what he had said the day before.
“It could become relevant if there was a dispute of what the money was spent for,” he said.
This is not the first time that Ellis has rebutted the prosecution and their case against Manafort.
In May, Ellis openly questioned Mueller’s prosecutors, suggesting they lied to the court about the scope of the Russia investigation, as well as the true purpose of the case, which the judge argued is to bring down President Donald Trump.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort,” Ellis said. “You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you to lead you to Mr. Trump and an impeachment, or whatever.”
The trial is expected to last three weeks, but Ellis predicted it will be finished “much sooner than anyone predicted.” If the entire prosecution is based on pictures of Manafort’s closet and examples of his luxury lifestyle, it could very well be finished quickly.
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