Alexandria, Virginia — Rick Gates has already admitted to committing numerous crimes with his ex-boss, President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Heck, he’s admitted to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort by entering false expenses.
But he can’t quite remember if he did the same thing when he held a senior position on Trump’s inauguration committee.
“It’s possible,” he said as Manafort’s defense team began cross-examining him Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t recall.”
Gates faced blistering questioning from Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, aimed at incinerating his credibility. Gates had already admitted to engaging in a host of crimes, including at the request of Manafort.
But Downing quickly got personal, accusing Gates — a married man with four children — of carrying on an affair and having a “secret life” in London.
Downing pressed Gates on:
— An earlier admission that he had lied on his tax returns (which Gates admitted)
— Whether he arbitrarily paid himself a bonus of $250,000 during a year when his own salary was $240,000
— Earlier questioning by the special counsel’s office about his potential insider trading
—Whether he knew anything about a “ponzi scheme” with a man named Mr. Brown
—Whether the special counsel’s team had threatened him with 290 years in jail (Gates wasn’t sure)
Some of the lines of inquiry appeared to be left unresolved as of mid-Tuesday afternoon as Downing skipped between issues and Gates frequently said he couldn’t recall details. Gates cited memory problems for multiple issues he’d previously been asked about by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which has brought the charges against Manafort.
“Have they presented you with so many lies that you can’t remember them?,” Downing asked.
Gates also raised doubt about whether he’d really lied to the special counsel earlier, despite having already pled guilty to doing so. He said that accepting that charge was a condition of his plea deal, but bobbled the question about where exactly he’d lied.
“There were instances where I struggled… recalling facts and details,” Gates said. “There’s no question I struggled.”
Downing shot back: “You just had a bad recollection?”
“To some extent, yes,” Gates said.
But Gates admitted that he’d had an affair.
“There was a period of time when I had another relationship, yes,” Gates said. While he admitted to maintaining an apartment in London and occasionally flying there first class, he said it was typically while en route to business assignments in Ukraine, where he and Manafort worked for years as political consultants.
During Gates’ testimony on Monday and Tuesday, he has avoided looking at Manafort, despite his former boss’s steely glare. On Tuesday, as the trial broke for lunch, Gates exited the courtroom, passing behind Manafort — and stole a look over his shoulder at the back of Manafort’s head.
Tarnishing Gates’ reputation has been seen as the centerpiece of Manafort’s legal strategy, but it may not be enough to win his freedom, observers have told VICE News. Prosecutors have marshalled 15 witnesses in the case so far, and have 20 more they may choose to call on by the end of the week, along with an extensive paper trail of receipts, invoices, bank records, wire transfers and other documents.
“After all the fraud you’ve committed, and all the lies you’ve told, they’re supposed to just believe you?,” asked Downing, who was once himself a prosecutor. “This jury’s just supposed to believe you?”
Gates, however, insisted he was telling the truth — and pointed out that unlike Manafort, he had pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel.
“Mr. Manafort had the same path,” Gates said. “I’m here.”
Pressed about his admissions of past illegal behavior, Gates said: “I’m trying to change.”
Gates also pushed back against the argument, which has been raised in a number of ways by the defense, that Manafort was a distracted boss who farmed out the financial details of his operation to Gates.
“Mr. Manafort was very good about knowing where the money was and how to spend it,” Gates said.
That prompted Judge T.S. Ellis, who’s injected several tart observations into the trial already, to point out that Manafort hadn’t known about the money Gates stole from him.
“He wasn’t that good,” Ellis said.
Read more coverage from the trial:
Cover image: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as campaign official Rick Gates (2ndL) looks on during Trump's walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/RickWilking/Files