By Nathan Layne, Karen Freifeld and Amanda Becker
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Reuters) – Attorneys for Paul Manafort rested their case on Tuesday without calling any witnesses, including the former Trump campaign chairman himself, who told the judge he did not want to testify in his own defense against bank and tax fraud charges.
The defense attorneys’ decision means that the closely watched case is expected to go to the 12-person jury on Wednesday, after prosecutors and Manafort’s lawyers make their closing arguments and instructions are issued to the jury.
Manafort’s trial is the first courtroom test for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who indicted him as part of an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
A Manafort conviction would undermine efforts by President Donald Trump and some Republican lawmakers to paint Mueller’s inquiry as a political witch hunt, while an acquittal would be a setback for the special counsel.
Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing said Manafort’s legal team chose not to mount a defense because U.S. prosecutors had not met the legal bar needed to prove their case.
“We’ve rested because Mr. Manafort and his legal team do not think the government has met its proof,” Downing told Reuters.
Manafort, who has watched silently as the case against him was argued in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, was asked by Judge T.S. Ellis whether he wanted to testify.
“No, sir,” he replied.
Asked whether he was satisfied with the advice he’d received from his attorneys, Manafort said, “I am, your honor.”
That exchange took place without jurors in the courtroom. On Tuesday afternoon, the jurors were recalled to hear of the defense team’s decision, and then dismissed for the day.
Manafort made millions of dollars working for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before he took an unpaid position with Trump’s campaign that lasted five months. The charges against him involve activities that predate his tenure with the Trump campaign.
Manafort has been charged with tax and bank fraud as well as failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. If found guilty on all charges, he could face eight to 10 years in prison, according to sentencing expert Justin Paperny.
U.S. prosecutors on Monday rested their case against Manafort after 10 days of testimony.
Manafort’s lawyers had moved on Monday to have all the charges dismissed, in part arguing the prosecution had not proven he willingly committed crimes. The motion was a standard defense request viewed by legal experts as unlikely to succeed.
“They are all jury issues,” Ellis said, explaining that he believed it should be up to the jury to decide.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne, Karen Freifeld and Amanda Becker in Alexandria, Virginia; Writing by Warren Strobel and Susan Heavey; Editing by Alistair Bell)