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Paul Manafort trial focus shifts to bank fraud as prosecutors near end of case

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The trial of Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, is expected to shift focus on Thursday from his alleged tax evasion to bank fraud as the prosecution’s case heads into its final two days.

Prosecutors are expected to call a series of bankers to the stand to question them about Manafort’s alleged efforts to mislead them with doctored financial statements in a scramble in 2015 and 2016 to borrow against real estate.

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Of the 18 felony charges Manafort faces, nine relate to bank fraud and involve mortgages from Citizens Bank, Banc of California, Genesis Capital, and the Federal Savings Bank, a small Chicago lender whose chief executive was named to an economic advisory panel to the Trump campaign.

Greg Andres, a prosecutor working for U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, told the court on Wednesday that the prosecution would call eight more witnesses, question each for roughly an hour, and was on track to wrap up its case by week’s end.

Manafort’s lawyers have not yet indicated whether they plan to call witnesses as part of his defense. Their legal strategy so far has hinged on attacking the credibility of the prosecution’s star witness, former Manafort business partner Rick Gates.

The trial in federal court, which finished its seventh day on Wednesday, is the first stemming from Mueller’s probe into Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank fraud, tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. According to trial testimony, he used the accounts to receive millions of dollars in payments for his work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

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Prosecutors allege that the Federal Savings Bank lent Manafort money based on fraudulent documents. As part of a quid pro quo, they allege bank Chief Executive Steve Calk was named an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign and that Manafort pushed for him to get a senior post once Trump was elected.

During questioning by prosecutors on Tuesday, Gates said that Manafort had emailed him in late 2016 asking for the incoming Trump administration to consider tapping Calk for Secretary of the Army.

Calk and Federal have not replied to requests for comment.

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Manafort’s defense attorneys have attempted to pin responsibility on Gates for the wrongdoing Manafort is charged with.

Gates, in turn, has said he engaged in financial maneuverings involving their business activities at Manafort’s direction.

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Gates ended three days of testimony on Wednesday, after admitting he lied, stole money and cheated on his wife.

Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing got in a final shot, raising the possibility Gates had not one, but four extramarital affairs. Prosecutors objected and Gates never answered the question.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Nathan Layne and Karen Freifeld; Writing by Warren Strobel; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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2020 Election

William Barr made it clear this week that he’d sign off on a sham investigation into the Dems’ 2020 nominee

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Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.

A perfect storm propelled New York's sleaziest real estate developer to an Electoral College victory in 2016 despite winning three million fewer votes than his opponent, but Nate Silver made a compelling argument that the letter James Comey sent to Congress just 11 days before Election Day announcing that the FBI was re-opening its probe into Hillary Clinton's emails was decisive.

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Bill Barr is serving notice to DOJ officials that he’ll ruin them if they investigate Trump: MSNBC host

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An MSNBC discussion about Bill Barr running interference within the Justice Department for Donald Trump ended with "AM Joy" host Joy Reid suggesting that the attorney general's very public "media blitz" over the so-called "Horowitz Report" is a warning shot to anyone in the DOJ who thinks about investigating the president.

As Reid explained it, "He did a whole TV blitz to basically say that his own agency, the FBI, was spying on the Trump campaign, something that the inspector general said did not happen."

Reid took that to its logical conclusion.

"Now he’s saying, ‘Well, I’ve got a different report that’s going to find the motivations’ that he’s basically saying are bad motivations by people in the FBI.  And if you’re that FBI agent and then you hear that Donald Trump may be again looking for foreign help and maybe again getting help from Russia or forcing help from Ukraine, what do you do?" she asked. "Would you then not be concerned that, should you go ahead and investigate foreign interference in our election, that William Barr may come after you?"

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Stefanik voters turning on GOP lawmaker after she threw away her credibility to defend Trump

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Over the course of the impeachment hearings, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) has gone from a relative backbencher who sells herself as a moderate to voters in Upstate New York, to a theatrical partisan grandstanding for President Donald Trump and a top target of ire from Democrats.

But according to Politico, at least some of her voters appear turned off by her new stance.

"While Stefanik once able to strike a delicate balance between her Republican identity and her positions on issues like climate change, some think those earlier convictions are gone, like Phillip Paige, a former Stefanik backer and a member of SUNY Potsdam’s College Republicans," wrote Politico's Anna Gronewald. "A native of the 21st district’s Madrid, New York, Paige said he started to lose faith in Stefanik when she began supporting Trump as the party’s nominee in 2016. Paige supported John Kasich’s candidacy in that election. 'A lot of her boots-on-the-ground young Republican crowd has really become quite disillusioned,' he said. 'We saw her as what we thought the future of the Republican Party was and that really has been disproven. Unless, maybe the future of the Republican party is Donald Trump.'"

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