Manafort’s defense team takes parting shot at Gates as star witness ends testimony
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Without a parting glance, Rick Gates left the witness stand Wednesday after three days of testimony that prosecutors hope will seal a guilty verdict against his former boss, Paul Manafort, on tax and bank fraud charges.
Gates, the star witness at Manafort’s trial in Alexandria, Va., portrayed Manafort as a demanding boss who directed a years-long scheme to hide millions of dollars from the IRS in foreign bank accounts, and use that money to spend a fortune on expensive suits, homes, and home entertainment systems. Gates also admitted to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort with phony invoices and padded expenses.
The case is a critical public test of the work done by special counsel Robert Mueller III, as Manafort is the first person charged by Mueller’s office to go to trial. More than a dozen witnesses have told the court how Manafort and Gates, two political consultants who once held senior positions in the Trump campaign, spent years stashing cash overseas and living beyond their means.
Manafort’s defense strategy has been to blame Gates for any wrongdoing.
Defense lawyer Kevin Downing took one final shot at Gates before he left the witness stand Wednesday, accusing him of engaging in more marital infidelity than Gates acknowledged earlier. Under previous questioning, Gates had admitted to a trans-Atlantic affair 10 years ago.
Downing asked if he had told the special counsel’s office that ‘‘you actually engaged in four extramarital affairs?’’ The attorney appeared to be trying to show that even in his court testimony, Gates was still not telling the full truth. But after a lengthy sidebar before US District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III, Downing asked a different question, whether Gates’ ‘‘secret life’’ continued into the 2010-2014 time period.
Those are the years prosecutors have focused on in attempting to prove that Manafort hid about $15 million in income from the IRS.
‘‘Mr. Downing, I’d say I made many mistakes, over many years,’’ Gates answered.
Gates worked for Manafort for more than a decade before the pair were indicted last year on bank fraud and tax charges. In February, Gates pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and conspiring against the United States. Under sentencing guidelines, he could get roughly five to six years in prison for those crimes, but he said he hopes his cooperation with the government will result in less time behind bars.
While the Manafort trial grew out of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with those efforts, those issues are not part of these proceedings.
When the questioning of Gates ended around 11 a.m. Wednesday, he was dismissed from court. Gates did not look at Manafort as he left the room.
During and after Gates’ testimony, Ellis continued to spar with prosecutors, a daily occurrence during the trial.
The judge barred prosecutors from showing the jury a chart that had been prepared by the FBI. Ellis has repeatedly pressed prosecutors to accelerate their case, and he said the chart would only slow things.
‘‘We need to find a way to focus sharply,’’ the judge said.
‘‘We’ve been focused sharply for a long time,’’ countered prosecutor Greg Andres.
Ellis ended the argument with a joke. ‘‘Judges should be patient,’’ he said. ‘‘They made a mistake when they confirmed me.’’
The judge berated prosecutors again when he learned that the prosecution’s next witness — IRS agent Michael Welch — had been watching the trial from the gallery.
Manafort, Welch testified, paid out more than $15.5 million to vendors between 2010 and 2014, without reporting and paying taxes on that money.
The IRS agent said that figure was a conservative estimate, and did not include possible business expenses such as 132,000 euros to a yacht company, $49,000 for an Italian villa rental, $45,000 for cosmetic dentistry and $19,800 for a riding academy.
Prosecutors have said they expect to finish presenting their case Friday.