Star witness testimony ends after Manafort lawyer’s attacks


ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Reuters) – Star government witness Rick Gates ended three days of testimony on Wednesday after admitting he lied, stole money and cheated as lawyers for U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort attacked his character.

Paul Manafort (L), former campaign chairman for U.S. President Donald Trump, in Washington, DC, U.S., December 11, 2017, and Rick Gates, former campaign aide to Trump, in Washington, U.S., December 11, 2017 are pictured in this combination photograph. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

As Gates took the witness stand for the final time at the tax and bank fraud trial of his former boss, Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing asked if his “secret life” spanned the years 2010 to 2014.

“I have made many mistakes over many years,” Gates, 46, replied in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Downing spent several hours on Tuesday firing questions at Gates to attack his credibility as a witness, bringing up lies, an extramarital affair in London he used the firm’s expenses to pay for and money he embezzled from Manafort. Downing also asked whether he submitted personal expenses when he worked for Republican Trump’s inaugural committee.

Manafort is the first person to be tried on charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Manafort made millions of dollars working for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before he took an unpaid position with the Trump campaign that lasted five months.

Gates, who pleaded guilty to charges in February and is cooperating for the possibility of a reduced sentence, testified that he helped Manafort falsify his tax returns, lie to banks to get loans and hide foreign bank accounts.

Gates, a married father of four, faced tough questioning under cross-examination on Tuesday about his leading a “secret life.”

“In essence, I was living beyond my means,” Gates said. “I’m taking responsibility for it. I made a mistake.”

Prosecutors on Wednesday planned to call an FBI forensic expert who traced Manafort’s accounts.

Manafort, a longtime Republican political consultant, has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank fraud, tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. According to testimony, he used the accounts to receive payments from Ukrainian oligarchs.

Manafort’s defense team’s has tried to pin much of the blame for financial crimes on Gates and raise doubts about his ethics and morals.

Prosecutor Greg Andres addressed the defense lawyer’s questions about whether the special counsel’s office had tried to coach Gates on how to testify.

“The only answer I was told was to tell the truth,” Gates replied.

Manafort’s conviction would undermine efforts by Trump and some Republican lawmakers to paint Mueller’s inquiry as a political witch hunt, while an acquittal would be a setback for Mueller.

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.

In detailed testimony, Gates walked prosecutors through the step-by-step process on how he and Manafort doctored and backdated documents.

In one example, Manafort and Gates emailed each other copies of a doctored profit and loss statement they later sent a bank to help Manafort obtain a loan.

Gates also admitted that he covertly wired funds out of Manafort’s offshore accounts to line his own pockets, using the same tricks he deployed to help doctor and falsify records for Manafort.

Downing seized on those admissions to try and cast doubt on whether the jury can trust Gates’ claims that he only carried out the fraud alleged by prosecutors at Manafort’s behest.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Nathan Layne and Karen Freifeld; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Grant McCool

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