Gates Steers Manafort Trial Into Trump Terrain

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – President Donald Trump’s name has been mostly absent from the trial of Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, but that changed on Tuesday.

In this courtroom drawing, Rick Gates answers questions posed by prosecutor Greg Andres, as the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort continues at federal court in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 7, 2018. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

In one of the last questions posed to its star witness on direct examination this afternoon, the prosecution led Rick Gates through two email exchanges he had with Manafort late in 2016 while Gates was working on the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Though Manafort left the campaign three months before Trump’s election, he said in one November 2016 email that he thought Steve Calk should be considered for the position of secretary of the Army when Trump took office.

In another exchange, Manafort included Calk and Calk’s son on a list of people he wanted to invite to Trump’s inauguration.

Calk is the founder and CEO of The Federal Savings Bank, one of the institutions with which Manafort is accused of filing false information to receive a loan. Calk served on Trump’s economic advisory council during the campaign, but Trump never nominated Calk to the Army secretary position.

Gates began testifying Monday and remained on direct examination past lunch recess today. Just as he walked prosecutors through the process that he says he and Manafort fabricated invoices, Gates offered insight into how the duo manipulated profit-and-loss sheets for Davis Manafort Partners International.

In one instance highlighted by prosecutors, the sheets were destined for the Bank of California.

Corroborating earlier testimony from former Manafort tax preparer Heather Washkuhn, Gates also recounted how he asked Washkuhn for a Microsoft Word version of a 2015 profit-and-loss sheet.

“Why did you want that?” asked prosecutor Greg Andres.

“It could be more easily manipulated,” Gates said.

“Did you get what you wanted?” Andres said.

“I never got a copy,” Gates said before correcting himself. “Not one that I could use.”

An email exchange that the government entered into evidence suggests that Manafort had tried in July 2016 to doctor the records for himself.

“How do I convert PDF into word document?” Manafort wrote in an email to Gates.

“I can do it and send to you,” Gates replied.

In this courtroom drawing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, left, sits with his lawyer Kevin Downing as Manafort’s trial continues at federal court in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 7, 2018. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

Vying to cast Gates as the mastermind of mischief in their client’s tax returns, defense attorneys for Manafort finally took the offensive Tuesday afternoon, leaving no question over how tough a cross-examination Gates faces.

Neither Gates nor defense attorney Kevin Downing used the word affair, but the witness admitted that he had another relationship when Downing asked obliquely about his “secret life” in London.

Though Gates copped to having covered substantial personal expenses by filing false expense reports with Davis Manafort Partners International, the witness denied that any funds from foreign accounts were used to cover the cost of his so-called “secret life” — one that Downing described as filled with first-class fights, fancy dinners and an expensive flat in the city.

“I submitted expense reports that were unauthorized over several years,” Gates said.

Downing also pressed Gates on other allegations against him that never went to trial because of  his plea deal. One discrepancy involves a letter Gates prepared for a movie-production company with a false inflation of the project’s financial backing. Gates said he did not believe that the letter caused any money to exchange hands.

“When did you start providing false and misleading information to the special counsel’s office?”  Downing asked the witness.

Gates hesitated for a moment. “There were instances where I struggled with interviews and the details,” he said.

In contrast to the composed state he presented on direct examination, Gates’ brow furrowed briefly as he sparred with Downing.

“I struggled to get all the information out correctly,” Gates said, blaming his “bad memory.”

Judge T.S. Ellis III asked Gates for clarity: did he or did he not plead guilty to lying to authorities?

“I did your honor, to one count,” Gates said.

Trying to recreate the witness’s experience after his indictment, Downing asking Gates to explain how the special counsel discovered that he lied.

Gates said he was confronted by attorney Andrew Weissmann, who is the special assistant to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Downing appeared frustrated throughout the cross-examination with Gates, specifically with his recollection of what he told the special counsel’s office.

“Have they confronted you with so many lies that you can’t remember any of it?” Downing asked.

Downing also walked Gates through the charges he faced in the Eastern District of Virginia before the special counsel dismissed them.

Mueller dismissed the counts of filing false tax returns, failure to register foreign bank accounts, bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud as a part of his plea agreement.

“Did the special counsel indicate you could go to jail for 290 months?” Downing asked before correcting himself. “Excuse me, 290 years.”

“They did not tell me that…but I like your first answer better,” Gates said as the court erupted in laughter.

Judge Ellis abruptly sought clarity from Gates about what the special counsel had told him of his potential sentencing.

“But did you understand [what the sentencing could be?]” Ellis asked.

“I knew it was more than 50 years or 50 to 100 years,” Gates said.

Downing continued to press Gates during cross-examination, asking: “After all the lies you’ve told and the fraud you committed, you expect the jury to believe you today?”

“Yes,” Gates replied confidently.

When Downing asked why, Gates shot back:  “I’m here to tell the truth. Mr. Manafort had the same path. [But] I’m here.”

At one point, Downing earned a reprimand from the judge when he left the podium to approach Gates with an exhibit that purportedly shows how Gates invested some of the funds he secretly routed from Manafort.

Directing the lawyer to give the documents to a court security officer who would then pass them to Gates, Ellis warned: “In this court you cannot cross that line.”

Before court adjourned for the day, Downing asked Gates how often Manafort checked in with him for updates about where money was flowing offshore.

Gates said Manafort checked on his money “frequently.”

Judge Ellis was quick to interject before Gates could continue.

“He didn’t know about the money you were stealing, so he didn’t do it that closely,” Ellis said before adjourning.

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