Feds discuss tangled web of Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Donald Trump in Chicago banker Stephen Calk bribery case

ByChuck Goudie, Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner WLS logo
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Feds discuss tangled web of Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Donald Trump in Chicago banker Stephen Calk bribery case
The bribery trial date for defrocked Chicago banker Stephen Calk was moved on Thursday, and will likely be in 2021.

A-list Washington figures Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and President Donald Trump are all supporting actors in the government's bribery narrative against Chicago bank executive Stephen Calk.

That much is evident from a court hearing in Calk's case, being prosecuted in the Southern District of New York. The Thursday morning hearing was conducted by phone because the federal courthouse in Manhattan -- and court buildings elsewhere -- are closed for in-person business due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

Calk, who was present by phone from Chicago, is accused of greasing the way for 2016 Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to obtain $16 million in high-risk personal loans from The Federal Savings Bank on Chicago's Near West Side. In exchange for the bank loans, prosecutors say Manafort managed to place Calk on a small economic advisory committee to the Trump campaign and tried to engineer a major administration position.

Calk, 55, founded Federal Savings Bank in the Fulton Market neighborhood and was CEO until being hit with a financial institution bribery charge last year.

RELATED: Chicago banker, former Trump adviser Stephen Calk loses fight to move trial here

Email evidence shows that Manafort turned to senior White House adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner for help in getting Calk an administration appointment, possibly Secretary of the Army. After receiving the email from Manafort shortly after Trump was elected in November 2016, Kushner replied the same day that he was "On it."

As it turned out, Calk was never hired on by President Trump or given any spot, top or otherwise, after the election.

In newly a filed court record on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield said that the evidence against Calk had provided probable cause for the government to move forward in its original investigation, including the issuance of search warrants and the seizure of his cell phone.

RELATED: Chicago banker claims dirty tricks in case linked to ex-Trump campaign boss Paul Manafort

Federal Savings Bank founder Stephen Calk is charged with "corruptly soliciting a presidential administration job" in exchange for $16 million in loans to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

During Thursday morning's hearing-by-phone, it was also revealed that top White House adviser Kushner is on the government's preliminary witness list, along with Manafort who was separately convicted of bank and tax fraud. It isn't expected that Manafort or Kushner will actually testify in the Calk case. Calk's attorneys had been asking for access to the government's full witness list, which prosecutors opposed claiming they were just looking for a "road map" to the case.

Trial had been scheduled to begin in Manhattan on Sept. 3 but Judge Schofield has now ruled that won't happen because of the coronavirus closure. She set a new trial date for December 1, but told both sides to take that "with a grain of salt" as it is unknown whether courthouses will even be open by then.

RELATED: Chicago banker Stephen Calk indicted on bribery charge connected to pursuit of Trump administration post

When they do reopen, the judge said there will be a pecking order for criminal cases, with defendants currently locked up getting priority.

Calk is free on bond.

"Clearly there will be a line," Judge Schofield said Thursday, "and I don't know where we will fall in that line."

Judge Schofeld said, "We really don't know when jury trials will commence again" because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit New York City particularly hard.

The delay may help Calk's defense team, including well-known Chicago attorney Jeremy Margolis, to scour the titanic paper trail provided by prosecutors.

There are now 20 million pages of documents, according to attorneys on the hearing call.

Calk's lawyers had claimed that prosecutors were dragging their feet in turning over evidence and had asked for sanctions against the government.

The judge Thursday denied that request, indicating there was nothing devious in the timing and stating that it wasn't intentional.