Gates, star witness against Manafort, concludes testimony

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) – Paul Manafort’s protégé wrapped up his testimony Wednesday after implicating the former Trump campaign chairman and himself in financial crimes while also enduring stinging attacks on his character and credibility.

Rick Gates has been the government’s star witness in Manafort’s financial fraud trial, testifying how, at the behest of his longtime boss, he helped conceal millions of dollars in foreign income and submitted fake mortgage and tax documents.

Defense lawyers saw an opening to undermine his testimony by painting him as liar and a philanderer, getting him to admit to an extramarital affair and reminding jurors how he had lied to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team while working out a plea deal for himself.

The testimony, stretching across three days, created an extraordinary courtroom showdown between the two former Trump campaign aides who were indicted together by Mueller but who have since opted for radically different strategies: Manafort is the lone American charged by Mueller to opt for trial, whereas Gates pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate by testifying against his former boss.

Neither man was charged in connection with their Trump campaign work, but the trial has nonetheless been a distraction for a president who insists Manafort was treated shabbily and who continues to publicly fume about Mueller’s investigation into potential ties between his associates and the Kremlin.

Prosecutors sandwiched the testimony of Gates around other witnesses who, in sometimes dry and detailed testimony, described Manafort’s lavish spending and use of offshore accounts to stash Ukrainian political consulting fees.

A clothier said he sold Manafort more than $900,000 in luxury clothes, a bookkeeper says she helped disguise foreign income as a loan to reduce Manafort’s tax burden and, on Wednesday, an FBI forensic accounting specialist said Manafort hid more than 30 offshore accounts in three types of currencies from the IRS.

Overall, the accountant traced more than $65 million flowing into offshore accounts controlled by Manafort, and she detailed for jurors how more than $15.5 million flowed out to fund his lavish lifestyle between 2010 and 2014.

But it was Gates’ testimony that has so far generated the most drama, as the witness admitted embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his boss, confessed to an extramarital affair and turned in spectacular fashion against a longtime mentor.

Prosecutors relied on Gates to provide direct, first-hand support of the accusations against Manafort.

He told jurors how he disguised millions of dollars in foreign income as loans in order to lower Manafort’s tax bill. He recounted how he and Manafort used more than a dozen offshore shell companies and bank accounts in Cyprus to funnel the money, all while concealing the accounts and the income from the IRS.

Prosecutors sought to soften the blow of the cross-examination by asking Gates to acknowledge his own crimes, including a lie to Mueller’s team in February. But Gates nonetheless faced aggressive questioning by Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, who at one point asked him, “After all the lies you’ve told and the fraud you’ve committed, you expect this jury to believe you?”