Gates Takes the Stand, Says He Committed Crimes with Manafort

This courtroom sketch depicts Rick Gates, right, answering questions by prosecutor Greg Andres as he testifies in the trial of Paul Manafort, seated second from left, at the Alexandria Federal Courthouse in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 6, 2018. (Dana Verkouteren via AP)

WASHINGTON — Rick Gates, the longtime right-hand man of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, faced his former boss in the courtroom today for the first time since he flipped, telling jurors in the Eastern District of Virginia that he committed crimes in conjunction with and was directed to commit crimes by his former business partner.

“Did you commit crimes with Mr. Manafort?” prosecutor Greg Andres asked Gates.

“Yes,” Gates replied.

Gates said this included 15 offshore accounts that, “at Mr. Manafort’s direction,” were not reported to the government and were covered up with doctored documents. These accounts, he said, were receptacles for money earned through lobbying work for pro-Russia former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych — via wire transfers from shell company to shell company.

Gates admitted milking “several hundred thousand” dollars out of some of these accounts in Cyprus by submitting false expense reports to his boss.

Manafort’s defense team is expected to grill Gates about that embezzlement. Gates was the third witness to take the stand today, so it was still the prosecution’s turn as the day wrapped up. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has been preparing for the defense strategy, though, by asking witnesses who worked with the pair which man was in charge. “Oh, Mr. Manafort,” replied accountant Philip Ayliff.

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. On the stand, he admitted to lying during a deposition years ago, saying Manafort asked him “not to include” certain things in that testimony.

Gates revealed in court that he had prepared for his testimony by meeting with prosecutors at least 20 times. Andres, who was deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division before joining the Mueller team, clashed with Judge T.S. Ellis III when the prosecutor tried to show Gates’ passport to establish where and when he traveled with Manafort during their Ukraine work.

Ellis said Mueller’s team needed to move the trial along and “focus sharply on what the indictments are” and not “give a history of Ukraine.” Ellis at one point admonished Andres for looking down while the two were arguing, then said attorneys should stop rolling their eyes; Andres asked the judge how he could have seen his eye movements if he was looking down.

The prosecution will wrap up Gates’ testimony Tuesday — day six of the Manafort trial — before Gates then faces cross-examination from the defense.

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.

In this trial, Manafort faces 18 charges for financial crimes that carry a maximum penalty of 305 years behind bars. Next month in the D.C. Circuit, he faces charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent and lying to investigators.

Manafort’s former bookkeeper Heather Washkuhn testified last week 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.

Washkuhn testified that Manafort falsely reported to the 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 the 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.

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.

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.