WTF is happening in the Manafort trial - The defense calls no witnesses

So the defense in the Manafort trial. Has decided to call no witnesses.

IANAL but this seems super strange to me. Any lawyers or otherwise more informed types care to give their opinion on why this would be?

Other than the only reason I can think of, that he’s been promised a pardon, but “lets just throw the trial because our client has been promised a pardon” seems like a pretty risky legal strategy for a team of presumably very capable (not called Michael Cohen or Rudy Guliana) lawyers to come up with.

It is very common for the defense in a criminal case to choose not to call any witnesses. The prosecution has to prove guilt; the defense does not have prove anything. If the defense feels that they can best raise reasonable doubt through cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses, then they will do that.

The defense also still has the opportunity to make their closing arguments, which will likely involve many attempts at impeaching the prosecution’s evidence.

I figure one of three circumstances is at play here:

  1. They’re incredibly confident that the prosecution failed.
  2. They want the jury to THINK that they’re incredibly confident that the prosecution failed.
  3. The pardon is printed and signed, or more likely they got some vague promise about a pardon and will be terribly terribly disappointed.
  1. They think there’s a Trump fan on the jury who will ignore the evidence and cause a deadlock resulting in a mistrial.

4a. They KNOW there’s a Trump fan on the jury who will ignore the evidence and cause a deadlock resulting in a mistrial.

Haven’t they already done this, though?

My understanding is that this is all that’s left.

My understanding is that there’s two reasons why the defense might leave well enough alone, at opposite extremes.

  1. As you’ve mentioned, if the defense feels the prosecution has failed to prove its case, then the defense doesn’t need to bring any new evidence into the trial; all they have to do is convince the jury, in its closing argument, of the prosecution’s failure.

  2. The defense basically has no case, and no new evidence or witnesses are going to change that.

I haven’t been following the trial closely, but I hardly believe Mueller would have brought this case if it wasn’t airtight. So I’m betting on the latter.

Here’s a good CNBC article about it.

It’s not uncommon for defence not to call evidence, and particularly not to call the accused.

Gates has admitted to a lot of criminal misconduct. Defence will hammer home on that, and try to convince the jury that his lack of credibility undermines all the documentary evidence and evidence of other witnesses.

Prosecution will admit Gates is crooked, but nonetheless should be believed because his story is consistent with the documents and testimony of the other witnesses.

The sooner the trial ends, the sooner Manafort is either convicted and sentenced, or found not guilty and released, or there’s a do-over mistrial. If by some chance he is found guilty he will likely serve a few months and then be pardoned by Trump, out of prison and sitting home cooking up his next tax fraud scheme. He hasn’t turned against Trump and will be rewarded for his silence. He probably knows something that Trump would rather not be publicly known. It’s good to know the king and know something the king would rather be kept secret from the subjects.

This would seem more likely, given the amount of documentary evidence (and one of the MSNBC talking heads pointed out that the defense didn’t contest the fact that Manafort repeatedly failed to report his foreign bank accounts). In this scenario, putting the defendant on the stand — and exposing him/her to cross-examination — is more likely to hurt than help.

Historically, knowing something the king would rather be kept secret has been hazardous to one’s health.

I’m not sure what you mean by #2. The defense isn’t supposed to “have a case”. The offense is the one who has to have a case. The defense just needs to cast doubt on the offense’s case. As already noted, a defense team needn’t prove innocence.

The defense doesn’t have to have a case. That doesn’t mean they aren’t supposed to. Most of the time a criminal defense will involve establishing an alternate theory to explain the facts proven by the prosecution. Sometimes the defense doesn’t have to bother because the prosecution fails to prove an element of its case. Sometimes the prosecution’s evidence is so voluminous that the defense thinks it will be too confusing to the jury, but putting on a defense may help to crystallize the facts and thus be counterproductive.

Also, it’s the state or the prosecution, not the “offense,” at least not until they replace jury trials with flag football trials. :wink:


The defense doesn’t need to have a case. They just need to raise reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case. A lot of defense lawyers have won criminal trials while presenting no case at all. Probably won’t happen here, since the evidence against Manafort is very strong.

But I thought the defense did have a case - that Gates was actually responsible for everything Manafort is being accused for.

That’s an argument, not a case.

OK. But isn’t it in their interest to provide witness that can corroborate their argument?

Possibly. But keep in mind that any witnesses they do provide would be subject to cross-examination by the prosecution.

And they might not actually have any witnesses that they can use.

Maybe they’re counting on judge Ellis instructing the jug to acquit.

Manafort, and honestly just about every defendant these days has the benefit of the CSI effect. If all the dots aren’t connected with solid evidence, that constitutes reasonable doubt.

The only defendants who don’t get that bonus are the ones who are so universally loathed (Martin Shkreli) that the defense has to provide signed affidavits from the Pope and six deceased saints that the defendant was with them when the crime was committed.

Jury, that is.

Any witness called can be asked if the defendant contacted them and tried to tamper with their testimony. Also, how happy would anyone be, at this point, to be called as a witness for Manafort. Wouldn’t it kind of be painting a target on the witness?