Politics

Why Rick Gates Was Always Going to Testify Against Manafort

Former righthand man expected to say Manafort directed him to directed him to conceal foreign bank accounts and lie on bank loan applications

President Donald Trump's ex-campaign chief Paul Manafort arrives court in Washington, D.C., in June for a hearing on whether his bail should be revoked. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Prosecutors in the Paul Manafort trial affirmed Thursday that they have “every intention” to call the former political consulting titan’s righthand man, Rick Gates, to testify against him.

The prosecution was probably always going to call Rick Gates to testify against Paul Manafort — even though U.S. attorney Uzo Asonye threw that plan into question the day before.

It’s important to understand the context of Asonye’s answer to Judge T.S. Ellis III that Gates “may testify” against his former boss, but “he may not.”

Asonye was answering a question from the judge on why the prosecution was entering a piece of evidence Wednesday that another witness — Gates — would testify about later in the trial.

“The judge put [the prosecution] on the spot, and they didn’t want to make a definitive decision one way or the other in the moment,” a former U.S. prosecutor who has worked on similar tax evasion cases told Roll Call.

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For virtually every criminal case, prosecutors have a tentative sketch of the evidence they plan to present and the witnesses they plan to call to testify.

But that rough pre-trial outline shifts and changes depending on the defense’s maneuvers and what kind of evidence the judge has demonstrated he would allow.

“Every night of a trial, the prosecutors’ presentation changes,” the former DOJ attorney said. “It’s not all planned at the beginning. We would have a projection of who we were going to call the tomorrow and the next day. But we would rearrange it if we had to.”

Despite the morphing nature of prosecution presentations, the prosecutors doubtless planned all along for a lynchpin witness like Gates to testify since he is expected to tell the jury that Manafort directed him to falsify invoices, conceal foreign bank accounts, and lie on bank loan applications.

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“With a witness like Gates, you should know whether you’re going to use him or not,” the former prosecutor said.

Gates reached a plea deal with Robert S. Mueller III’s special investigation team in February to testify against his former boss, Manafort.

Manafort is facing 18 counts of tax evasion and bank fraud.

He is accused of concealing more than $30 million in dozens of bank accounts in three foreign countries.

Prosecutors spent most of the first two days portraying Manafort as a money- and luxury-obsessed politico who jurors could believe would purposely lie on his IRS documents and loan applications.

They detailed his work for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from the mid-2000s to the early-2010s. And they dove into his knack for exorbitance: seven homes, including a $200 million estate in Alexandria, Virginia, just miles from the courthouse where he stands trial, hundreds of thousands of dollars of rugs and fine suits, and the now-infamous $15,000 ostrich-skin jacket.

On Thursday morning, the prosecution questioned two more vendors, Manafort’s landscaper and the COO for a company that set up the electronics and WiFi networks in his homes. Later Thursday, they plan to call three bookkeepers and tax preparers who once worked for Manafort, an indication that they are turning their attention to evidence they hope proves Manafort knowingly had his tax forms altered and falsified to conceal his income stream from Ukraine stashed offshore.

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