The defense used its opening minutes Wednesday in the ongoing trial of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort to add a little spice to the closing testimony of Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business partner and a key witness for the prosecution.
After government prosecutor Greg Andres reminded jurors that Gates stands to lose his plea agreement if he tells any lies on the stand, defense attorney Kevin Downing pivoted off the point to drop a bombshell of a detail about Gates’s personal life.
Andres asked Gates, “Is there any doubt that if you lied, the special counsel will rip up your plea agreement?”
“No doubt at all,” Gates answered.
After that, Downing, in his re-cross, cited Andres saying moments ago that if Gates lied, Mueller could “rip up” Gates’s plea agreement.
“Do you recall telling the special counsel that you had four extra marital affairs?” Downing said.
Four? The jury had only been privy to discussion of one affair up to that point. Andres objected, a bench conference ensued, and when the action resumed, the defense went back to more broadly referencing Gates’s “secret life” rather than drawing Gates out on specifics.
After that jolt, the 10 hours of testimony from Gates finished with a whimper before the prosecution moved on to a much drier dissection of Manafort’s finances from an FBI forensic accountant. As NBC’s Julia Ainsley noted, the unsettled affair accusation “lingered” as the most dramatic moment of the day.
But forensic accountant Morgan Magionos, an FBI specialist assigned to the Mueller probe, did her best to take the baton and soldier on. Magionos walked jurors through in excruciating detail how she traced 31 foreign bank accounts in Cyprus, the Caribbean island nation of the Grenadines and the United Kingdom back to Manafort. All those accounts added up to a lot of money—some $65 million of which came from accounts with connections to Ukraine.
From 2010 to 2013 (not 2014), the FBI analyst testified that ~$65M from accounts associated with Ukraine (she identified at least one account as being controlled by a Ukrainian businessman) went into the alleged Manafort overseas accounts at issue in this case
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) August 8, 2018
The jury also learned that Manafort and Gates were questioned by the FBI in 2014 about whether their main client, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, was hiding millions of dollars in overseas accounts. The defense tried to demonstrate that Manafort acted as though they had nothing to hide at the time. Accordingly, Gates testified that Manafort instructed him to answer the FBI questions honestly. But the prosecution also established that Manafort told Gates to send word back to their Ukrainian oligarchs that the FBI might contact them, writes Politico.
“He asked me to go meet with one of the Ukrainian businessmen and to inform him of the FBI interview,” Gates recalled.
The FBI did not follow up with either Manafort or Gates about their personal finances, tax returns, etc.
A final note on Gates, the prosecution gave him a chance to clarify who exactly he was stealing from by padding his expense reports, Manafort or Manafort’s Ukrainian clients?
The defense has also contended that Gates admitted to stealing from Manafort, but under questioning by Andres Wednesday, Gates argued that wasn’t true. He said the padded expenses he submitted didn’t come out of Manafort’s bottom line because the overseas contracts the firm worked on generally stuck the clients with expenses.
U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III continued his abusive treatment of prosecutors, at one point berating the government lawyer for addressing him too informally. Judge Ellis had asked Andres about whether certain questions were related to another line of inquiry.
“Yeah,” Andres responded.
“What?” Ellis said, sounding incredulous and irritated.
“Yes,” Andres replied.
The exchange earned Andres a scolding. “Be careful about that,” he told Andres. “This is not an informal proceeding.”
NBC’s Ainsley, who was covering the court proceedings for the first time Wednesday, said on MSNBC that she sometimes found the judge’s handling of prosecutors “a little hard to watch, actually.”
Prosecutors still expect to plow through eight more witness on Thursday and Friday to finish presenting their case by Friday.