The former right-hand man of one-time campaign manager for President Trump, Paul Manafort, spent the week testifying against his former boss as the first trial stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election got underway.
Both Paul Manafort and his longtime assistant, Rick Gates, have been indicted on a bevy of charges including tax evasion, bank fraud and lying to the FBI. In February, Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and making false statements. He has been a cooperating witness in Mueller’s investigation ever since.
Gates is now considered the star witness against Manafort in his case. In three days’ worth of testimony, Gates outlined how he had committed crimes, “at Mr. Manafort’s direction,” he said.
“I was the one who helped organize the paperwork and initiate the wire transfers,” Gates said. During his testimony he detailed how he initiated the bank transactions that helped hide millions of dollars worth of money earned overseas from the IRS in the States.
Most of the money – as much as $65 million according to prosecutors – came from lobbying work Manafort and Gates performed for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. The funds, Gates says, were funneled from Ukraine to bank accounts on the island nation of Cyprus, a notorious tax haven for Russian oligarchs and their associates. From there they were laundered through shell corporations and ultimately hidden in, among other places, expensive real estate purchases.
Gates’ claims were backed up by evidence in the forms of emails sent from Manafort to Gates, including one from 2011 where Manafort tells Gates to “proceed” with secret foreign wire transfers. In another from 2015 Manafort is incredulous at Gates over a high tax bill. “How could I be blindsided like this?” Manafort asks.
Prosecutors hope to finish presenting their case by Friday at which point Manafort’s legal team will begin presenting its defense to the jury. Manafort’s attorneys have indicated that they plan to paint Gates as a rogue employee, committing the crimes leveled against Manafort on his own accord.
To that end, Manafort’s lawyers spent the week chipping away at Gates’ credibility during cross examination. They raised questions about Gates’ extramarital affairs, his helping to fake investment documents for another associate and his lying to investigators in his case before eventually striking a plea deal.
Gates admitted to past mistakes and told the jurors he is attempting to take responsibility for them. Addressing the jury directly he said, “I’m here to tell the truth. … Mr. Manafort had the same path. I’m here.”
Photo by The Department of Justice