In an absolutely stunning turn of events on Tuesday, the defense in the Paul Manafort case rested at 11:53 AM EST without calling a single witness for the defense, nor even presenting a case.
The move immediately sparked discussion among legal scholars both professional and amateur as to whether Manafort and his team might be banking on a pardon from President Donald Trump, or whether Manafort is simply confident enough that the defense’s “Rick Gates is a bad person” argument will be enough to find him not guilty.
Either situation is risky for Manafort, since Trump must now weigh the pros and cons of actually handing down the pardon. It may seem to both parties as though there’s no downside, and many in the legal community — not to mention legal critics of Donald Trump — would love to see him make such a rookie assumption.
At issue is the fact that accepting a pardon includes an implicit admission of guilt. You cannot be pardoned for a crime of which you are not guilty, so taking a pardon means you admit that you were guilty of that crime. That, while not equivalent to prison time, is a sentence of its own for a man in Manafort’s line of work.
But the downside for Donald Trump — and his own legal team is foolish if they haven’t pointed this out to him — is that pardoned individuals, due to the admission of guilt implied in accepting the pardon, may not plead the Fifth in future proceedings, even if they’re against the president who pardoned him.
The other possibility is that Manafort’s defense feels they have tried their own case on cross-examination — the “Rick Gates is bad” argument — and feels that if they put up any defense at all, the jury will weigh it against the prosecution and they don’t feel that they can beat the prosecution’s case. Since the burden of proof is always on the prosecution, Manafort might be betting that they haven’t met that bar.
That would be a grave mistake.
Featured image via courtroom sketch