Manafort lawyer: ‘So many lies’ Gates can’t keep up
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — In a blistering back-and forth, Paul Manafort’s lawyer suggested Tuesday that the star witness in the former Trump campaign chairman’s financial fraud trial has told “so many lies” he can’t remember all of them.
Defense lawyer Kevin Downing began his cross-examination of longtime Manafort deputy Rick Gates by pressing him on his own lies to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, an extramarital affair and hundreds of thousands of dollars he admitted to embezzling from his former boss.
Downing also ventured into territory both sides had agreed to avoid: discussion of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Under questioning, Gates said he may have submitted personal expenses for reimbursement by Trump’s inaugural committee, which he helped operate. Downing also asked whether Mueller’s investigators had interviewed Gates about his role in the campaign, prompting an objection from prosecutors and a sidebar conference with U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III.
The judge then brought the trial to a standstill late Tuesday afternoon, calling a brief recess.
In general, references to Trump at the trial have been few and far between. Both sides agreed ahead of time to limit discussion of the campaign so as not to prejudice the jury, though they had agreed to allow testimony about the overlap of a bank loan with Manafort’s role in the campaign.
The tough questioning of Gates came after he spent hours telling jurors how he disguised millions of dollars in foreign income as loans in order to lower Manafort’s tax bill. Gates 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.
Under questioning from Downing, Gates acknowledged he had to plead guilty to false statements after lying during a February interview with federal investigators. At one point, as Gates had trouble recalling the details of his confession, Downing asked him, “Have they confronted you with so many lies that you can’t even remember them?”
Attack on credibility: Manafort’s defense attorneys have sought to paint Gates as an embezzler, a liar and the instigator of any criminal conduct. They have tried several times to impugn his credibility before the jury.
Ahead of that barrage, Gates implicated himself in a vast amount of criminal conduct on the stand, an apparent strategic decision by prosecutors as they hoped to take some of the steam out of the defense’s questioning.
Gates’ testified that he and Manafort knew they were committing crimes for years.
“In Cyprus, they were documented as loans. In reality, it was basically money moving between accounts,” Gates said.
Prosecutors summoned Gates to give jurors the first-hand account of a co-conspirator they say helped Manafort carry out an elaborate offshore tax-evasion and bank fraud scheme. Gates also provided the first witness testimony that overlaps with Trump’s presidential campaign.
Manafort and Gates were the first two people indicted in Mueller’s investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. But Gates pleaded guilty months later and agreed to cooperate in Mueller’s investigation of Manafort, the only American charged by the special counsel to opt for trial instead of a guilty plea.
Working together: In testimony Tuesday, Gates laid responsibility squarely at Manafort’s feet for a series of crimes, saying the two had committed crimes together by stashing money in foreign bank accounts and falsifying bank loan documents.
Gates described to jurors how he repeatedly submitted fake financial documents at Manafort’s behest as his former boss became concerned he was paying too much in taxes and, later, that his funds were drying up.
In one email, Manafort wrote “WTF” and “not happy” about tax payments he was going to have to make, Gates said.
In other testimony, Gates recounted how he converted a PDF of a profit-and-loss statement to a Microsoft Word document so he could doctor it to inflate the business’ income. Gates also fabricated a forgiveness letter for what he said was already a fake loan between Manafort’s consulting company and a Cypriot entity he controlled.
Prosecutor Greg Andres pointed out he had created a “loan forgiveness letter between Mr. Manafort and Mr. Manafort.”
“Yes,” Gates agreed.