Manafort Prosecutor Says Key Witness Might Not Testify

This courtroom sketch depicts Paul Manafort, seated right row second from right, together with his lawyers, the jury, seated left, and the U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III, back center, listening to Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye, standing, during opening arguments in the trial of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Manafort’s on tax evasion and bank fraud charges. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

(CN) – A prosecutor at the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort said Wednesday Richard Gates, Manafort’s former business associate, might not be called to testify.

“He may testify in this case, he may not,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye said. “We’re trying to shorten the trial.”

The revelation came after U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III interupted Asonye’s review of Gates’ daily agenda from 2013.

The judge challenged the relevance of discussing the document at this point in the trial.

“Aren’t you going to have Mr. Gates testify?” Ellis said.

When Asonye expressed uncertainty, Ellis responded by saying that special counsel should know “at this point” what witnesses they were calling.

“That was news to me and it appears to at least 25 other people in this room who scurried out of here like rats on a sinking ship,” Ellis said, referring to the herd of reporters who immediately left the courtroom to file updates.

Asonye explained the decision on whether or not to call Gates is dependent on how the evidence unfolds.

Gates, once Manafort’s co-defendant, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of lying to federal agents and has been cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Much of the second day of Paul Manafort’s trial on fraud and conspiracy charges, an FBI agent described in detail the raid last year on the former Trump campaign chairman’s condo and the cache of financial documents that were found there.

The first full day of testimony in the case was accompanied by a veritable tweet-storm by President Donald Trump, who at one point on Wednesday asked “who was treated worse …?” the gangster Al Capone or Paul Manafort.

Special Agent Matthew Mikuska told jurors on Wednesday that the FBI knocked multiple times on the door of Manafort’s condo before entering — testimony that contradicted early media reports which had said the FBI had carried out a “no-knock” raid.

Mikuska said he and other agents gathered outside the home, knocked three times and then announced the FBI was there to execute a search warrant.

When no one answered the door, the agents used a key already in their possession, to entered the home. They found Manafort standing inside, the agent said.

Mikuska went on to testify that Manafort’s name was on several documents taken from the home, some describing loan agreements climbing into the millions of dollars, others showing wire transfer invoices.

Prosecutors say the seized documents included a June 2015 loan forgiveness letter that they claim was fabricated by Manafort, and several loan agreements based on allegedly false assertions that funded costly renovations on Manafort properties in the Hamptons, Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida.

The invoices were for everything from the purchase of a $16,000 touch screen in Manafort’s office in Bridgehampton, and $150,000 paid for work on daughter Jessica Manafort’s apartment in New York City.

Throughout the day, the sideshow to events occurring inside the Alexandria Virginia courthouse was the president’s twitter page.

“This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further,” Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning. “Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to the USA!”

Trump followed up with a second tweet, seeking to distance himself from his one-time campaign chair.

“Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders,” he said. “He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion – a Hoax!”

Later, the president tweeted, “Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer, and “Public Enemy Number One,” or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement — although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russian Collusion?”

Mikuska  was preceded on the stand by political consultant Daniel Rabin, a partner with the Rabin Strasberg media consultancy, who helped Manafort produce political ads for television in Ukraine in 2012.

Rabin’s name appears on a handful of the government’s exhibits including one foreign lobbying disclosure indicating Manafort paid Rabin Strasberg roughly $350,000 in 2012 for the firm’s services.

Like Tad Devine, who testified on Tuesday, Rabin worked as a consultant for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during the 2016 presidential election. Rabin’s firm had previously worked for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in 2014.

Under questioning from prosecutor Greg Andres, Rabin said he travelled between the Ukraine and the U.S. more than 40 times between 2006 and 2014 at Manafort’s behest.

Davis Manafort International reimbursed him for food and other travel expenses and frequently kept him on retainer, he said.

But Rabin went on to say is relationship with Manafort soured in 2014, when Manafort failed to pay him $31,000 for his firm’s assistance with a media campaign in Ukraine.

On cross examination, defense attorney Richard Westling asked Rabin if he “knew Paul Manafort to be a talented political consultant” or if he considered Manafort a “productive” client.

Rabin said he did, further telling Westling that in the years he worked with Manafort he was paid more than $100,000.

The day began with U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III telling prosecutors not to use the word “oligarch” to describe wealthy Ukrainians who paid millions to Manafort for his consulting work.

Ellis said he worried prosecutors would give jurors the idea that oligarchs are, by definition, criminals.

 

“I have some concern over whether the memos [that Rabin and others will refer to in their testimony] are submitted for the truth of the matter,” Ellis said to prosecutor Greg Andres.  “Both sides mention the term oligarch but an oligarch is despotic power exercised by a privileged few. In that definition, a principal in a high school could be considered an oligarch.

“The government is entitled to a fair trial. So is the defendant,” Ellis said.

“Soros would be an oligarch by these terms,” the judge continued, referring to Democratic mega-donor George Soros. “So would the [Koch Brothers]. But we don’t call them oligarchs. Here we will refer to [those named as oligarchs at trial] as a person who helped run a campaign. Oligarch has a pejorative meaning.”

Prosecutor Greg Andres told Ellis that it wasn’t a matter of opinion to use the word, but that it was used only because that is exactly how witnesses had described figures like Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Yanukovych to investigators.

“These are the facts of the case,” Andres said.

Raising his voice, Ellis  replied: “No, It is not a fact. It is an opinion. Find another way to say it. And if you disagree, file a brief…We’re not going to try this case like he associated with despicable people and is therefore despicable. You don’t need the term oligarch. You can use the terms ‘he financed it.’”

Testimony will continue after the morning recess. Scheduled to testify are Maximillian Katzman, Daniel Opsut and Ronald Wall.

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