Wednesday, 24 October, 2018

Gates, star witness against Manafort, concludes testimony

Rick Gates is seen on the witness stand as a message between he and his former boss Paul Manafort appears before the court during Manafort's trial in Virginia. Courtroom illustration courtesy of Bill Hennessy Paul Manafort's associate says 'hundreds' of emails prove former Trump campaign chief directed fraud
Faye Gross | 10 August, 2018, 03:02

Rick Gates, who worked on Trump's campaign throughout 2016 and then as executive director of Trump's inaugural committee, is the star witness against Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman whose first of two trials focuses on charges the political operative is a tax cheat and financial fraudster.

Gates told the court in Alexandria, Virginia, that he had met with government lawyer Greg Andres and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents 20 times and been told only to tell the truth, without any guarantee that he will be spared prison.

A bank employee told jurors how she discovered discrepancies in the information he put on his loan application, including holes in his claims about a New York City property. "I thought he was needlessly evasive and argumentative", said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney in MI who has been watching the trial and said she observed jurors reacting with negative body language as he testified.

She says in another instance, Manafort maintained that there were no mortgages on a separate NY property when there actually were.

Manafort's lawyers consistently tried to paint Gates as an unreliable witness, and Gates' last day of testimony was no different.

Ellis had repeatedly chided prosecutors, both in front of the jury and out of their hearing, during the trial.

While Gates offered a firsthand account of a co-conspirator, prosecutors have largely sought to make their case through documentary evidence to demonstrate that Manafort controlled offshore bank accounts containing millions of dollars.

The judge has subjected the prosecution to repeated tongue-lashings over the pace of their questioning, their massive amount of trial exhibits and even their facial expressions.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III has made headlines in recent days for his clashes with the prosecutors, including pressing them on the speed and merits of the prosecution and suggesting one prosecutor was so discouraged he was crying in the courtroom. Witnesses are usually excluded from watching unless allowed by the judge.

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Prosecutors attached a transcript showing that in fact Ellis had approved the request a week before. That's when they reminded the judge that they had already discussed this and thought he had given Welch permission to sit in on testimony.

Gates pleaded guilty in February and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors under a deal that could lead to a reduced sentence.

The dispute with Ellis follows a dramatic three days in which Manafort's protégé, Rick Gates, implicated his former boss in a years-long financial scheme while also enduring stinging attacks on his character and credibility.

The 46-year-old, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is cooperating with the government, began the day by describing how he helped Manafort evade United States taxes on millions of dollars earned from political consulting work they did in Ukraine.

"Judges should be patient".

"I'm here. I'm trying to change", he said.

Moreover, Manafort remains a central figure in the broader inquiry into the Trump campaign's dealings with Russia, including a 2016 Trump Tower meeting at which Russians promised "dirt" on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and his role in watering down the 2016 Republican Party platform position on Ukraine.

But it was Gates' testimony that has 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. "You said you had a made mistake", the lawyer said.

But the defense team has taken on the the daunting task of convincing jurors that Gates, who was in constant communication with Manafort and carrying out his wishes, is an unreliable witness who had simply gone rogue and independently made a decision to boost his boss' personal income over a period of several years.

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