ALEXANDRIA,Virginia — Over three excruciating days on the witness stand, the prosecution's star witness, Rick Gates, admitted, at times in painstaking detail, to a laundry list of crime, theft and lies. Despite this treasure trove of misdeeds that could be used to undermine his credibility, the defense team ended with a personal jab at Gates.
“Do you recall telling the special counsel that you engaged in four extramarital affairs?” thundered Kevin Downing, the defense attorney for Gates’ ex-boss, Paul Manafort, as Gates visibly blanched and blinked rapidly. So far, he’d only copped to one.
The question prompted a swift objection from prosecutor Greg Andres, and ultimately went unanswered. But the exchange’s scandalous undertone was emblematic of how this white-collar criminal case seemed to turn into a tabloid romp overnight: After days of dry testimony from accountants or salesmen, Gates’ appearance gave the proceedings an unmistakable sheen of crime, sex, lies and shame.
During his time on the stand, Gates admitted to a remarkable amount of scandalous behavior, much of which he said had been approved of, or directed by, Manafort. In response, the defense team attempted to use every shady thing he’d ever done against him.
The unfolding scene featured two men who once held top positions in President Trump’s campaign accusing each other, in essence, of a staggering amount of criminal behavior during their decade together as political consultants for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
“The defense scored some points.”
This dynamic was played up by the defense, which sought to dynamite Gates’ credibility by focusing on his many deceptions, admitted crimes and “secret life” in a rented “flat” in London. The questions amounted to an attempt to cast shadows of doubt in the minds of the the jury about whether his testimony against Manafort can be trusted.
This morning Gates said:
- That he’d been in an affair for “approximately five months” a decade ago, and that he’d told his wife
- That Manafort knew about it at the time, and was “supportive” (to use the prosecution’s term)
- That he’d made “many mistakes over many years”
- That the money he admitted to stealing from Manafort’s consultancy by artificially inflating expenses was billed to their wealthy Ukrainian clients
- That he’d pled guilty to reduced charges in February while estimating he faced a possible 100 years in prison if he didn’t agree to cooperate with prosecutors
- That he knows the government can “rip up” his plea deal if he’s caught lying again
“Does your secret life span over many years?,” asked Downing.
“Yes,” Gates responded.
By the time Gates stepped down Wednesday afternoon, the defense team had succeeded in landing some painful blows and may have dented his believability, Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor who’s been watching the trial, told VICE News.
But it wasn’t enough to blow up the government’s case against Manafort, she said.
“The defense scored some points,” said McQuade. “I thought [Gates] was needlessly evasive and argumentative. He admitted to all kinds of lies and fraud.”
The prosecution has brought forward many pages of documentary evidence, and more than a dozen witnesses so far in the case against Manafort.
“I still think the documents and other testimony should be enough to convict him,” McQuade said.
Gates told the jury that Manafort knew about the many offshore bank accounts used by his company, and that he helped Manafort conceal them from U.S. authorities. He said he helped provide misleading documents to American banks when Manafort took out loans to fund his lavish lifestyle.
“I still think the documents and other testimony should be enough to convict him.”
The defense countered by asking about a range of subjects in which Gates had acted in bad faith, including some that weren’t fully explained to the courtroom.
Among those were apparent episodes of “insider-trading” and a “ponzi scheme” with an unknown “Mr. Brown.”
Those issues were likely raised by the defense to sully Gates’ image in the eyes of the jury, McQuade said.
“That was just to dirty him up,” McQuade said. “They want to argue in closing that this was a life-long crook who can’t be trusted.”
The case against Manafort is expected to end by next week — before a verdict is announced by the jury.
READ MORE COVERAGE FROM THE TRIAL:
- Rick Gates spills the beans on the super-rich Ukrainians who paid Paul Manafort millions
- Manafort has a new scapegoat in his defense against Mueller
- The wise-cracking judge in Paul Manafort’s case may be starting to chill out
- Manafort's accountants appear just as confused about his finances as you are
- Rick Gates says he did crimes with Paul Manafort and stole his money
- Rick Gates can’t remember if he stole money from Trump’s inaugural committee