At one point on Monday, Assistant United States Attorney Danielle Sassoon asked Sam Bankman-Fried a seemingly simple question during her cross-examination of the defendant at his trial over seven counts of fraud and conspiracy: "Just to be clear, Mr. Bankman-Fried, taking money from FTX to pay back lenders, that's not margin trading, is it?"
The exchange that followed perfectly encapsulated the cat-and-mouse game that Bankman-Fried and Sassoon played throughout much of his cross-examination on Monday, complete with, according to my count, nearly 150 responses of "I don't know," "I don't recall," or other similar deferrals.
Bankman-Fried: I'm not——I don't think that's what happened, and I'm also not saying that's not margin trading.
Judge Lewis A. Kaplan: Would you please answer the question.
Bankman-Fried: I'm not sure I agree. I don't think I agree.
Sassoon: If Alameda took money off FTX to repay its lenders, that's not a margin trade, correct?
Bankman-Fried: I'm not sure I agree with that.
Sassoon: It's your testimony that that's a margin trade.
Bankman-Fried: It's my testimony that it depends on the details, but that that very well could be a margin trade. I'm sorry. It's a hypothetical. I'm speculating here.
Sassoon: You were CEO of FTX, right?
Sassoon: And you know what margin trading is, correct?
Bankman-Fried: Yeah. I'm telling you that sounds like a margin trade to me, but it is speculative, so I don't know what to say about that.
Sassoon: Well, this is the question, Mr. Bankman-Fried.
Sassoon: Is withdrawing money from FTX to repay a lender within your definition of a margin trade?
Bankman-Fried: Potentially, yeah. I can explain if you want.
Sassoon did not give Bankman-Fried the opportunity to explain, instead moving on to the next question.
Sassoon brought evidence to SBF's 'idk's
Though Bankman-Fried squirmed, Sassoon showed few visible signs of frustration or fatigue as her relentless questioning continued throughout the day. Sassoon almost always seemed to have a piece of government evidence on hand to cast doubt on Bankman-Fried's assertions or remind him what he had testified to previously, from press articles and tweets to photographs and financial statements.
Sassoon also usually caught when Bankman-Fried answered a different question than the one she had asked, pressing him again until she got a satisfactory response — or enough deferrals for the jury to presumably award her the point anyway.
Here's another illustrative example. At one point, Sassoon asked Bankman-Fried, "Do you recall saying to [FTX employee] Andy Croghan you kept your hair long because it was important for the business 'for people to think I look crazy'?"
When Bankman-Fried responded, "I don't think I said that in that way," Sassoon pulled up an excerpt from a New York Times article, with Croghan recounting how, after he told Bankman-Fried to get a haircut, the latter responded, according to Croghan's remarks quoted by the reporter, "I honestly think it's negative EV for me to cut my hair. I think it's important for people to think I look crazy."
Sassoon asked if Bankman-Fried still denied saying the quote, to which Bankman-Fried responded "I have no memory of saying it in that way and don't think I would have. I may have said parts of that or that with other context."
Again, this frustrating exchange was far from unique during Monday's cross-examination. What remains unclear is whether the jury found enough material in Bankman-Fried's meandering answers to reasonably doubt the government's case.
We should know soon, though; with the case proceeding on schedule, the jury is expected to begin deliberations by the end of this week, absent any further delays. The Block will be back in the courtroom for the remainder of Bankman-Fried's cross examination tomorrow.
Disclaimer: The former CEO and majority shareholder of The Block has disclosed a series of loans from former FTX and Alameda founder Sam Bankman-Fried.
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