ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Prosecutors confirmed today that they have “every intention” of calling former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s longtime right-hand man Rick Gates to testify in the trial that, per the reputation of this Beltway “rocket docket,” is moving at a fast clip.
Manafort’s team blamed Gates in opening statements for the financial crimes of which Manafort stands accused, but Manafort’s former bookkeeper Heather Washkuhn testified today that he “approved every penny of everything we paid” while keeping her in the dark about offshore accounts that prosecutors say funded a lavish lifestyle.
Manafort was on Trump’s campaign team from March to August 2016, starting as a delegate-wrangler and serving as campaign manager in the last three months. Former Trump campaign aide Gates came on board with Manafort and stayed for the duration of the campaign, later serving as deputy chairman for Trump’s inaugural committee and then starting a pro-Trump PAC.
Gates struck a deal in February, pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of making false statements to the FBI.
“We have absolutely put him on the witness list,” prosecutor Greg Andres said before the jury entered the courtroom this morning. “We have every intention to call him as a witness.” Assistant United States Attorney Uzo Asonye had told the judge Wednesday that Gates “may testify in this case, your honor, he may not.”
Gates will likely be asked about whether he helped his boss move money overseas and hide those accounts. It’s unknown if Manafort will take the stand in his own defense.
The first trial of Manafort — he faces another trial next month in the D.C. Circuit on charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent and lying to investigators — got off to a running start Tuesday in the Eastern District of Virginia with a jury selected and seated in about three hours and opening statements delivered before the close of the day. Manafort faces 18 charges for financial crimes that carry a maximum penalty of 305 years behind bars.
Washkuhn, who handled Manafort’s finances from 2011 to 2018, testified that as Manafort’s lobbying work in Ukraine slowed down, he began to fall behind on payments — including money he owed to her — in 2016.
Manafort attorney Thomas Zehnle pressed Washkuhn on whether Gates was regularly involved in approving expenses, but the bookkeeper said that “mainly Mr. Manafort was the approval source.”
Washkuhn testified that Manafort falsely reported to Federal Savings Bank that his company DMP International pulled in $3 million the first nine months of 2016 when it actually lost more than $1 million from January through November. She also said Manafort told Banc of California that his company made nearly $4.5 million when the actual amount was $400,000.
Dennis Raico and James Brennan, who worked for Federal Savings Bank, are two of the five potential witnesses who have been granted immunity. Manafort received a loan from the bank despite the false information. Stephen Calk, founder and CEO of the mortgage lender, was a campaign economic adviser to Donald Trump.
A series of emails from 2016 revealed Washkuhn telling Manafort that money was needed to pay his personal bills and property taxes; Manafort’s expenses included an average of $90 a year on Hamptons landscaping that included a large waterfall pond and his initial spelled out with blooms in a flower bed.
Accountant Philip Ayliff testified today that Manafort was asked if he had offshore bank accounts, which tax law requires must be reported to the U.S. government, “and the response was no.”
The Manafort jury consists of six men and six women, with three women as alternates and one man. The trial is expected to run through the end of next week.
In addition to Asonye and Andres, who was deputy assistant attorney general in Justice Department’s Criminal Division, rounding out Mueller’s courtroom team are Andrew Weissman, former leader of the fraud division in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Brandon Van Grack, an attorney in the counterintelligence section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
Mueller has reportedly referred other cases of lobbyists who may have not registered to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, the office that has been investigating Trump’s longtime former lawyer Michael Cohen. CNN reported those referrals are believed to include longtime Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), and former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig.