Friday 17 August 2018

Manafort team attacks star witness over affair, fraud and 'so many lies'

Paul Manafort faces charges related to financial crimes
Paul Manafort faces charges related to financial crimes

Eric Tucker

The questioning of Paul Manafort's top aide has zoned in on his personal life.

Lawyers for Mr Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign manager, hammered Rick Gates about his own crimes.

The defence focused on an extra-marital affair and a guilty plea with prosecutors that may spare him severe punishment.

Mr Gates, who faced a bruising cross-examination, returned to the witness stand yesterday for additional questioning from a Manafort lawyer who accused the government's star witness of being immersed in "so many lies"he can't even remember them all.

Lawyers for Mr Manafort are determined to impugn the credibility of Mr Gates.

Defence attorney Kevin Downing began his cross-examination of Mr Gates, Mr Manafort's long-time deputy and fellow Trump campaign aide, by confronting him on his own lies to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators, getting him to admit to an affair and pressing him about hundreds of thousands of dollars he admitted to embezzling from his former boss.

The aggressive questioning was aimed at shifting blame from Mr Manafort onto Mr Gates, who pleaded guilty in Mr Mueller's investigation and agreed to co-operate with investigators by testifying in the financial fraud trial.

"After all the lies you've told and the fraud you've committed, you expect this jury to believe you?" Mr Downing asked incredulously.

Mr Gates said he did, but the defence lawyer wasn't satisfied.

He scoffed at the idea Mr Gates had repented for his actions, noting that prosecutors have said they won't oppose his bid for probation and getting him to acknowledge he had not repaid the money he had taken from Mr Manafort.

After Mr Gates described his theft as "unauthorised transactions" instead of embezzlement, Mr Downing prodded him to use the latter term - and Mr Gates ultimately relented, saying: "It was embezzlement from Mr Manafort."

Prosecutors had braced for the tough questioning by getting Mr Gates to come clean about his own crimes.

He told jurors how he disguised millions of dollars in foreign income as loans in order to lower Mr Manafort's tax bill.

Mr Gates recounted how he and Mr 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.

But the grilling got more intense, and personal, when Mr Downing pressed Mr Gates about a "secret life" he said was funded by embezzlement, including an extra-marital affair that Mr Gates himself acknowledged. Mr Gates also said he may have submitted personal expenses for reimbursement by Mr Trump's inaugural committee, which he helped operate.

Mr Gates implicated himself in broad criminal conduct on the stand, an apparent strategic decision by prosecutors to take some of the steam out of defence questioning.

He told jurors he embezzled from Mr Manafort by filing false expense reports.

He also said he committed credit card and mortgage fraud, falsified a letter for a colleague involved in an investment deal and made false statements in a deposition at Mr Manafort's direction.

Prosecutors summoned Mr Gates to give jurors the first-hand account of a co-conspirator they say helped Mr Manafort carry out an elaborate offshore tax-evasion and bank fraud scheme.

Mr Gates testified he and Mr Manafort knew they were committing crimes for years, saying they had stashed money in foreign bank accounts and falsified bank loan documents.

"In Cyprus, they were documented as loans. In reality, it was basically money moving between accounts."

Mr Manafort and Mr Gates were the first people indicted in Mr Mueller's investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Mr Gates pleaded guilty months later and agreed to co-operate in Mr Mueller's investigation of Mr Manafort, the only American charged by the special counsel to opt for trial instead of a guilty plea.

Irish Independent

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