The judge presiding over the trial of Paul Manafort lectured prosecutors from special counsel Mueller’s team on August 1 for drawing undue focus on Manafort’s lavish lifestyle.
Manafort, 69, is charged with tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to report foreign bank accounts. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
As a prosecution lawyer described how much Manafort spent on clothing, including $440,160 in 2013 alone, Judge T.S. Ellis interrupted to say, “The government doesn’t want to prosecute somebody because they wear nice clothes, right?”
The prosecution called witnesses to reinforce the point that Manafort has lived extravagantly on earnings he allegedly concealed to evade taxes. Maximillian Katzman, of New York’s elite custom clothier Alan Couture, said Manafort was one of his top customers and, unlike any other customer, paid with international wire transfers.
With the jury out of the room, the judge complained about prosecutors’ efforts to show that Manafort’s life was luxurious and blocked them from showing one document on home renovations.
“Mr. Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle,” Ellis said.
Ellis chastised both sides for using the term “oligarch,” saying the word has negative connotations and could give jurors the impression that Manafort was “consorting and being paid by people who are criminals.”
“Of course, there will be no evidence about that,” the judge added and said that oligarchs are merely rich people.
Mueller was appointed to investigate allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and claims of collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia. Manafort’s trial is unrelated to either allegation.
The prosecutors raised the possibility during the second day of the trial that an expected star witness may not testify against Manafort.
Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business partner who pleaded guilty to making false statements after being indicted by Mueller, was expected to be a star government witness. Ellis asked the prosecution whether they planned to have Gates testify.
“He may testify in this case, he may not,” said prosecutor Uzo Asonye, a day after the defense made clear in opening statements to jurors that its strategy centered on discrediting Gates as an untruthful embezzler.
Reuters contributed to this report.