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The jury in the bank fraud and conspiracy trial of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort could begin deliberating on the case as soon as Wednesday, as both prosecutors and defense attorneys are poised to deliver their closing arguments.
Presiding Judge T.S. Ellis, who has repeatedly urged attorneys in the criminal trial to maintain a fast pace and scrap evidence related to Manafort's lavish lifestyle throughout court proceedings, also bluntly suggested that both teams of lawyers should keep their closing remarks brief.
Prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller and Manafort's defense team have both signaled that they will need about two hours to deliver their closing arguments. "If you think you can hold a juror's attention for two hours, you live on a different planet than I do," Ellis said Friday, The Washington Post reported.
Ellis may have a point, said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami. "Jurors don't have the longest attention span," especially in a "paper case" like this, Weinstein said. "At a certain point, the jurors begin to lose interest."
The jury of six men and six women have already sat through 11 days of testimony from more than two dozen witnesses and viewed hundreds of financial documents presented by Mueller's team.
Manafort, who was Trump's top campaign official before resigning in August 2016, is accused of multiple counts of bank fraud, failing to file foreign bank account reports and filing false tax returns.
The charges focus on the millions of dollars Manafort earned as a consultant for the pro-Russian political party of ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Prosecutors allege Manafort, with assistance from his former partner, Rick Gates, stashed millions in overseas accounts, misled the government about his income and failed to report many of those foreign accounts.
They also allege Manafort committed bank fraud by lying to obtain huge loans after Yanukovych was ousted in 2014, which dried up Manafort's income and strained his ability to maintain his lavish lifestyle.
If convicted, Manafort could be sentenced to as much as 30 years in prison for each count of the most serious charges.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges in the case, the first to be brought to trial from Mueller's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. His lawyers are likely to argue in their closing remarks that Manafort did not willfully break any finance laws and that the prosecution has not met its burden of proof. Weinstein noted that proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt is "a very high" hurdle for Mueller's attorneys to overcome.
They're also expected to continue their strategy of discrediting Gates, the prosecution's star witness, whom they have framed as the true bad actor in the case. In his opening statement, defense lawyer Thomas Zehnle accused Gates of embezzling money from Manafort and lying to him.
Manafort had put "his trust in the wrong person," Zehnle said. Gates pleaded guilty to the special counsel's charges of conspiracy and making false statements as part of a deal struck earlier this year, and agreed to cooperate fully with Mueller's team.
His status as Manafort's longtime business partner and fixer made him the most important witness in the case, and he testified that Manafort knew about and directed him to commit financial crimes. The defense team tore into Gates on cross-examination, dredging up extramarital affairs — one of which Gates appeared to admit to — and highlighting the fact that he has already admitted to lying.
The defense did not call any witnesses after the prosecution rested its case on Tuesday. Experts say this is not an unusual strategy in criminal trials and indicates that the defense believes the prosecution did not prove their client guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Even if Ellis allots the full time requested by both parties — not to mention the time required to provide preliminary instructions to the jury, and for the prosecution to rebut the defense team — the jury is still likely to begin deliberations on Wednesday. In a trial being ushered along as quickly as this one, Weinstein said, the jury could finish up by Friday.
"There's going to be a verdict before the end of the week, I would think," he said, considering the amount of time the jury might spend deliberating each aspect of the case.
Weinstein added: "These jurors don't want to come back next week."