Cross-examination of Gates devastating for prosecution in Manafort trial
The long awaited showdown between Paul Manafort and Rick Gates came Tuesday in an Alexandria, Virginia, courtroom as the two former Trump campaign advisers each had his credibility savaged in Mr. Manafort’s financial-fraud trial.No wonder the prosecution earlier indicated they might not call Gates as a witness. That they did suggest they felt their case was too weak without him. Now it appears even weaker with him.
In his second day of testimony, Mr. Gates told jurors of the bank and tax documents he fudged so that Mr. Manafort, a former employer, could continue living a lavish lifestyle even after his income began drying up.
But Mr. Gates also confessed to embezzling several hundred-thousand dollars from Mr. Manafort to fund an extramarital affair, and said he also may have charged personal expenses to the Trump campaign as a member of its inauguration committee.
Mr. Gates, who worked with Mr. Manafort for roughly a decade, is the star witness for prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
Earlier this year, Mr. Mueller indicted Mr. Gates and Mr. Manafort in Virginia on charges of bank and tax fraud. Mr. Manafort pleaded not guilty, while his former protege accepted a plea deal. Prosecutors agreed to drop the charges against Mr. Gates in exchange for his cooperation and testimony against Mr. Manafort.
Evasive and at times shaky, Mr. Gates appeared to be unsure of his answers, even contradicting himself. It was a different Mr. Gates from the man who earlier in the day confidently answered questions from prosecutor Greg Andres.
While telling the courtroom about how he stole from Mr. Manafort’s company by submitting false expense reports, Mr. Gates refused to say he embezzled from his former boss, even as Manafort defense attorney Kevin Downing kept pressing him to admit it. He eventually conceded his actions were embezzlement.
Mr. Gates faced a blistering two-hour cross examination from Mr. Downing, who assailed his character, repeatedly questioning his truthfulness.
“After all the lines you’ve told and fraud you’ve committed, you expect this jury to believe you?” Mr. Downing asked.
“I’m here to tell the truth,” Mr. Gates responded. “I’m taking responsibility for my actions. Mr. Manafort had the same path. I’m here.”
The attacks on Mr. Gates‘ trustworthiness is part of a strategy by Manafort attorneys to blame him for the financial crimes alleged against their client. They contend that Mr. Gates committed the bank and tax fraud in an effort to hide his embezzlement from his boss.
Mr. Downing immediately pounced on Mr. Gates providing the Special Counsel’s Office with “false and misleading information” before reaching a plea agreement. The questioning reflected the defense counsel’s accusation that Mr. Gates has told so many lies, he would have said anything to cut a deal.
After a series of cagey responses in which Mr. Gates blamed the inaccurate information on “instances where he struggled” with his memory, Judge T.S. Ellis III interrupted to ask flat out if he provided false information to prosecutors.
“I provided false information prior to my plea agreement,” Mr. Gates conceded.