DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So are there times when the best defense is no defense? That seems to be the strategy for Paul Manafort's legal team. He is President Trump's former campaign chairman. His fate is now in the hands of a jury. Manafort is charged on 18 counts of tax and bank fraud. And if convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following the trial, and she's here. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: All right. So the jury never heard Manafort speak in court. The defense team never called any witnesses. What exactly is the thinking here?
JOHNSON: It boils down to this for Paul Manafort's defense - the burden of proof is on the government. And they believe that the government has not met that high burden, so they didn't bother to put on any case of their own. That meant...
GREENE: They're basically saying there's nothing to defend against because their argument is they didn't present a real case here.
JOHNSON: Well, at least not enough to meet the high legal standard to convict Paul Manafort on 18 criminal charges. And the defense, in its closing argument, had to kind of introduce Paul Manafort to the jury all over again 'cause they didn't do much talking over the past 12 days.
They reminded jurors he was a top political consultant to presidents from Gerald Ford to Donald Trump. And they said all of this bookkeeping stuff and accounting stuff was very complicated. Manafort brought in outside experts to help with that. That's not something you would do if you were intending to carry out a fraud.
They also said that the special counsel team - this team of government prosecutors and FBI agents - were poring through documents years after the fact, trying to find places where the numbers in Paul Manafort's financials didn't match, in essence, arguing that they were looking for a reason to go after Paul Manafort.
And finally, as they've done since Day 1 of this trial, Paul Manafort's defense blamed Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates for almost all of his troubles.
GREENE: OK. So they didn't call any witnesses, but they had a lot to say in those closing arguments. In stark contrast, Carrie, the prosecution called 27 witnesses during this trial. How did they close their case?
JOHNSON: Well, the prosecutor said, the defense wants you to believe this whole case is about one man, Rick Gates. But government lawyer Greg Andres said the star witness over these last 12 or 13 days has actually been the documents - pieces of paper where Paul Manafort actually implicated himself. Greg Andres showed an email to the jury where Manafort claimed ownership of one of these 31 foreign bank accounts we've been talking about so much.
Then the government displayed an email where they said Manafort was directing Rick Gates to break the law, where Manafort is quoted as saying to Rick Gates, you be the quarterback here. Well, the government said if Gates is the quarterback, Manafort is the coach and the owner of this team.
JOHNSON: He's the guy in charge. And the government says the defense was trying to distract the jury in closing arguments because they're trying to run away from all that evidence. They invited jurors to look at specific pieces of evidence. And the jury was taking a lot of notes when the government lawyer was talking.
GREENE: All right. So after 12 days, now the case is in the hands of the jury. Any idea how long this takes and what happens now?
JOHNSON: Jury deliberations are secret, so there's a lot we don't know. We do know they can deliberate as long or as little as they like. There are something like 388 exhibits in this case...
JOHNSON: ...And 27 witnesses to go through. The judge has told these jurors to keep an open mind. But now is the time when they can go back count-by-count and discuss these charges and whether the government has met its burden. At this point, it's no way to - there's no way to tell how long that whole process is going to take.
GREENE: And, Carrie, hasn't the judge been a real central character in all this?
JOHNSON: Yeah. The judge actually had to give a formal instruction to the jury last night about his own comments and questions in the course of this trial. He said, if I'm asked a question or made a comment, I wasn't intending to render an opinion. Disregard my comments and look at the evidence, which was a remarkable thing for the judge to say after so much talking.
GREENE: Yeah. So interesting. All right. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson on the trial of Paul Manafort, which is now in the hands of a jury. Carrie, thanks.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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