Manafort trial Day 9: Witness suggests Trump role helped Manafort nab loans

 In Politics

The courthouse where Paul Manafort is being tried is pictured. | AP Photo

Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Manafort Trial

Afternoon testimony indicated that Paul Manafort’s role managing the Trump campaign helped him win millions of dollars in loans at a time he was badly short on cash.

Updated


The bank- and tax-fraud trial of former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort resumed Friday afternoon without any public explanation for an unusual delay in the proceedings, but quickly produced revealing testimony suggesting that Manafort’s role managing the Trump campaign helped him win millions of dollars in loans at a time he was badly short on cash.

A Chicago bank CEO who thought he was being considered for positions in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet helped facilitate $16 million in loans to Manafort duriwing and after the campaign, a bank official involved in the transactions testified Friday.

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The Federal Savings Bank of Chicago agreed to issue Manafort a $9.5 million loan after an unusual dinner in New York City in May 2016, days before Manafort was elevated to the position of campaign chairman, bank senior vice president Dennis Raico said on the witness stand after receiving a grant of immunity.

The bank’s CEO, Stephen Calk, attended that dinner and spoke with Manafort repeatedly in the ensuing months, Raico said. Three days after Trump was elected, the CEO called to ask Raico to contact Manafort.

Calk “said he had not spoken to Manafort in a day or two and thought it was possible he might be up for a senior role in the administration,” Raico said. Raico said the CEO asked him to “call Paul and see if he was a possible candidate for secretary of treasury or secretary of [housing and urban development].”

“Did you make that call?” asked Greg Andres, a prosecutor for special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which brought the charges against Manafort.

“No,” Raico said.

“Why?” Andres asked.

“It made me very uncomfortable,” Raico said.

Raico also testified that the process for approving Manafort’s $9.5 million loan was unusual in several respects. For one thing, Calk had never been involved in any other loan Raico handled. In addition, when the formal application for that loan was submitted to the bank’s Chicago headquarters, approval came back quickly.

“How soon after you submitted that loan for approval was it approved?” Andres asked.

“The very next day,” Raico said. That, too, had never happened before, the witness said.

Raico said he actually reached out to his ultimate boss in the spring of 2016 after learning about Manafort’s political work. “I came to learn Mr. Manafort was involved in politics and I knew Steve was interested in politics,” Raico said.

Calk came to the dinner in New York with Manafort and then attended a July meeting about the loan via video conference, Raico said. At that session, Calk was open about his desire to work with the Trump team, Raico added.

“He indicated he would be interested in helping serve the Trump organization,” Raico said.

Jurors at Manafort’s trial, which is nearing the end of its second week, also saw an Aug. 3, 2016, email from Manafort to Raico.

“Need Steve Calk’s resume,” the email’s subject line said.

The bank issued the $9.5 million loan in 2016 and another $6.5 million loan in January 2017 despite concerns about Manafort’s income stream and a large debt on his American Express bill caused by $210,000 in charges for Yankees season tickets, Raico said.

“It’s my understanding there were discrepancies in his income,” Raico said. Asked to explain, the bank official said Manafort’s financial statements seemed jumbled. “A + B didn’t equal C all the time,” Raico said.

Manafort assuaged the bank’s concerns about his American Express bill by submitting a letter Manafort aide Rick Gates signed saying he ran up the big bill for Yankees tickets.

“Thank you for allowing me to use the AMEX Business Plum Card to purchase season tickets for the 2016 baseball season,” read the letter, dated April 3, 2016. “I expect to collect fees from various people who will be partners with me to use the tickets.”

Gates testified earlier in the trial that Manafort asked him to write the letter, or something like it, because Manafort didn’t have enough cash to pay his bills at the time.

Manafort faces four felony counts — two of bank fraud and two of bank fraud conspiracy — for allegedly presenting false information to obtain the loans from the Chicago bank.

Calk never got a Cabinet post, although an email shown earlier at the trial indicates Manafort pressed to have him considered for secretary of the army and arranged to get tickets to Trump’s inauguration for Calk, his family members and friends.

Calk was not on the prosecution’s witness list made public before the trial. The bank has issued a statements saying it is cooperating with Mueller’s probe, but has declined to comment on Calk’s actions or to identify his attorney.

Unexplained delay waylays fast-moving trial for hours

After speeding along for nearly two weeks, Manafort’s trial came to a mysterious halt Friday morning as the federal judge and lawyers for both sides huddled out of earshot of the public.

Rumors swirled through the ninth-floor courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, about what the delay could mean — from a looming guilty plea from the former Trump campaign manager, to Judge T.S. Ellis III conceding his second mistake in two days, to an issue with the jury — but there were no clear answers.

Instead, Ellis, a 78-year-old Ronald Reagan appointee explained briefly to the court that he had a busy docket of more than 200 to 300 cases that he also has to “keep moving” and sent the overflow crowd off for an early lunch.

“I assure you this was all necessary,” Ellis said.

The scene inside Ellis’s courtroom Friday morning was starkly different from any other morning in the Manafort trial, now into its ninth day. Before the jury was summoned into the room, Ellis immediately called a bench conference with prosecutors and Manafort’s attorneys.

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