The Justice Department received well-deserved pushback yesterday in the trial of Paul Manafort from U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis who noted that it’s not a crime to be rich in America. The Justice Department has been trying every possible way of introducing pictures and witnesses detailing Manafort’s “extravagant lifestyle” in the jury trial. This includes such items as his $15,000 jacket that’s “made from an ostrich.” On style values alone, many of us would be tempted to convict on the Ostrich jacket but that is hardly what Manafort is charged with. Nevertheless, the government got plenty by using lifestyle witnesses to confirm Manafort’s use of direct wire transfers from his many foreign accounts — a practice that was recalled as exceptionally rare by the witnesses.
As I mentioned in my recent column, Manafort’s tastes and expenses would clearly alienate most jurors. However, Ellis grew increasingly impatient with the obvious effort of Mueller’s team to use the lifestyle evidence as a wedge with the jury.
It’s not a crime to be wealthy, said U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. And the pejorative term “oligarchs” and evidence of home renovations aren’t necessarily relevant to the charges in question, he added. At one point, Ellis even called out lawyers from both sides for rolling their eyes.
Ellis repeatedly told prosecutor Greg Andres “Let’s move it along.” Andres insisted that the evidence showed the he lived “lavishly” and was presumably intended to give a motive for his allegedly falsifying loan documents and misrepresenting his income.
One witness, Maximillian Katzman, testified about how Manafort was the only client of his high-end boutique to pay with an international wire transfer. It was more than $900,000 at that one store.
Ellis continued to noted that some evidence merely “shows is that Mr. Manafort had a lavish lifestyle. It isn’t relevant.”
Ellis also barred the use of the term “oligarchs,” as a coded term meant to show Manafort was associating with “despicable people and therefore he’s despicable.”
He added “That’s not the American way.”