Kathleen Manafort has stood by her husband every day in court, listening in silence as her name pops up while prosecutors present allegations of bank fraud and tax evasion against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Her name has been mentioned in the context of family car purchases, home renovations, joint tax filings and foreign bank accounts. Yet, she appears unfazed as she sits daily in the front row of the courtroom. When Paul Manafort enters, he often blows her a kiss.Story Continued Below
As a mortgage assistant from Citizens Bank gave testimony Thursday about a $3.4 million mortgage loan that both Kathleen Manafort and her husband received, which prosecutors say was based on false documents designed to defraud the bank, she whispered in a friend’s ear and shook her head. Prosecutors displayed the loan documents, which showed her signature.
Paul Manafort’s trial has thrown his wife into the public eye. Yet despite the potentially uncomfortable level of attention, legal experts say it is unlikely that she will face any criminal charges.
“I would be surprised if Mueller’s team did not gather evidence related to Mrs. Manafort and consider whether they had sufficient evidence to charge her,” said Renato Mariotti, a former prosecutor and a partner at Thompson Coburn. “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears they did not have enough evidence to do so.”
Paul Manafort faces charges of tax and bank fraud stemming from his work in Ukraine for a pro-Russia political party. It is the first trial in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but most of the activity covered in the courtroom dates to before the longtime GOP operative joined President Donald Trump’s campaign.
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Prosecutors have detailed lavish spending by the couple on designer suits and home renovations to show the jury how the Manaforts used money he allegedly hid from U.S. authorities. This week, Paul Manafort’ former deputy, Rick Gates, told the jury that his ex-boss became increasingly secretive about his business and finances as his work in Ukraine fizzled.
Other family members have gotten in legal trouble recently. Jeffrey Yohai, an ex-son-in-law of the Manaforts, pleaded guilty earlier this year to criminal charges of fraud in obtaining real estate loans and agreed to cooperate in federal investigations such as Mueller’s.
Throughout the trial, Kathleen Manafort has appeared supportive of her husband, sitting in the front row, right behind him and his team of lawyers on the courtroom’s uncomfortable wooden benches. On Thursday, she sat on a green stadium cushion emblazoned with a logo from the 2011 Carnival in Brazil.
She also has been spotted at the restaurant at the Westin Hotel across the street from the courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, where the trial is underway. Approached there recently by a reporter, she declined to be interviewed.
Jason Maloni, a spokesperson for the Manaforts, declined to comment Thursday.
Kathleen Manafort’s name came up several times in court Thursday. The Citizens Bank official, Melinda James, testified that the couple together had declared a New York City condo a second home on a loan application, even though prosecutors say Paul Manafort also filed tax returns declaring the property a rental that had been listed on Airbnb.
Later, the prosecution questioned a California bank executive about a $1 million loan Paul Manafort obtained in March 2016 to help his then son-in-law Yohai “flip” several high-end homes on the west side of Los Angeles. Prosecutors say Paul Manafort lied about his income and hid some of his debt to secure the money.
Banc of California official Gary Seferian said Paul Manafort and Yohai initially sought a $5 million loan, but the amount was reduced after the bank discovered that a Long Island home Paul Manafort listed as one of his assets was titled in Kathleen Manafort’s name.
In a memo that was shown to jurors, Seferian suggested that the loan for Yohai would have been more viable had Kathleen Manafort agreed to guarantee it. That didn’t happen. It was unclear whether Kathleen Manafort declined to be part of the loan application or whether her husband didn’t want to involve her. The Manaforts’ daughter Jessica filed for divorce from Yohai in March 2017.
Kathleen Manafort’s name also came up Wednesday, when Internal Revenue Service agent Michael Welch testified that he saw evidence of payments directly made to her from offshore accounts in Cyprus. Welch said it was unclear whether those payments were used for business or personal expenses.
Regardless of all the attention, the bar for being charged with criminal activity is high in a bank-fraud case, according to lawyers familiar with the issue.
Federal prosecutors would have to prove that Kathleen Manafort both participated and “knew that she was submitting false statements to obtain loans,” said Barbara McQuade, a former attorney and law professor at the University of Michigan who has watched the trial in the courtroom. For the tax violations, McQuade said federal prosecutors would need to prove she knew she was making false statements on tax returns.
Prosecutors have not made either argument.
Gene Rossi, a former prosecutor in Virginia who is now at Carlton Fields, said prosecutors also likely wanted to focus on Paul Manafort and Gates, his former business partner and now the federal government’s star witness. Rossi, who has also been watching the trial in person, described a case against Kathleen Manafort as “an incredibly tough sell” to a grand jury.
In rare cases, federal prosecutors have gone after spouses. Maureen McDonnell, wife of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, faced federal corruption charges with her husband for taking vacations, gifts and loans from a Richmond businessman. Federal prosecutors dropped the case after the Supreme Court overturned the former governor’s conviction.
“Jurors and judges do not like prosecutors going after the spouses of husbands who are deep in alleged criminal activity,’ Rossi said.
Josh Gerstein also contributed to this report.
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