ALEXANDRIA, VA — During cross examination of Rick Gates, Paul Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing used his questions to try to paint Gates as an unreliable witness by pointing out that Gates has already admitted to lying to the special counsel office, as well as to stealing from Manafort. Downing suggested that the money Gates stole was to fund a “secret life.”
Gates, Manafort’s former right-hand man, repeatedly referred to this scheme as his efforts to take money from his former boss, even after Downing referred to it as “embezzlement.” After several questions, Downing finally got Gates to utter the phrase, “It was embezzlement from Mr. Manafort.”
After probing Gates’ involvement in taking money from Manafort and helping Manafort determine whether to report foreign bank accounts, Downing directly questioned whether Gates was believable.
“The jury is just supposed to believe you?” Downing asked Gates. “After all of the lies that you told?” In response, Gates told Downing that he is “taking responsibility” for his previous actions and that he is “trying to change.”
The exchange was one of many tough lines of inquiry Downing pursued with Gates, whose testimony the defense has previously called the “heart” of the government’s case. It was not always easy to follow the lines of Downing’s inquiry, and Gates’ refusal to confirm many of the allegations added to the confusion.
Downing also grew frustrated with Gates as he repeatedly used the line “I don’t recall” in response to Downing’s questions. Downing lamented that Gates seemed to have a better memory when prosecutors were questioning him.
At one point, Downing grilled Gates about whether he was using money he stole from Manafort to fund a “secret life” in London, where Gates, who is married, had already admitted he was in another “relationship.”
“In essence, I was living beyond my means,” Gates said. “I regret it clearly, and I’m taking responsibility for it.”
Later, when Downing was grilling Gates on why the jury should believe his testimony, Gates again noted that he is taking responsibility.
“Mr. Manafort had the same path. I’m here,” Gates said. “I’m trying to change.”
Downing’s dizzying cross-examination covered a number of accusations that Gates committed crimes, some related to the current charges facing Manafort and others distinct from the case.
Downing mentioned allegations of insider trading, and discussed Gates’ relationship with film producer Steven Brown, who is accused of engaging in a scheme to defraud investors in D-list films.
A main topic was Gates’ embezzlement scheme. Gates has admitted that he inflated his expense reports to Manafort’s consulting firm. Downing grilled Gates on the fake invoices he used to back up wire transfers of money out of a Manafort entity in the Grenadines. Some of those wires were authorized by Manafort, Gates said, while some were not.
Downing attempted to connect Gates’ scheme to embezzle from Manafort to his time working for President Trump’s inaugural committee.
Gates, replying to a question by Downing, also said “it’s possible” that he submitted personal expenses to be reimbursed by the inaugural committee.
Downing also asked Gates if he talked to the special counsel’s office about his time at the Trump campaign. Gates replied, “yes.”
When Downing went to go ask another question, Andres objected.
The lawyers for both sides had a five-minute conference at the bench with Judge T.S. Ellis that the rest of the courtroom couldn’t hear, after which Ellis announced a 30 minute recess.
When the recess was over, there was no explicit indication from the judge whether Downing could continue the line of questioning to which Andres objected. Downing however did not bring it up again during the afternoon’s last hour of cross-examination. He said he would have another hour’s worth of cross-examination when the trial reconvened Wednesday morning.
Manafort is on trial here facing bank and tax fraud charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Gates was Manafort’s business deputy during the pair’s work as political operatives in Ukraine, and came with Manafort to the Trump campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller originally charged Gates alongside Manafort, but Gates reached a plea deal with Mueller in February in exchange for cooperating in the investigation.
Downing began his cross-examination of Gates Tuesday afternoon by trying to highlight for the jury Gates’ lies to both the special counsel and to Manafort. First he brought up Gates’ guilty plea of lying to the federal government.
Gates said “there were instances where I struggled with the interviews,” suggesting he had trouble recalling information in his interviews with the special counsel. “I provided false information to the special counsel office prior to my plea agreement,” Gates said.
Downing brought up a document that he said suggested Gates underreported his income on his U.S. taxes by about $3 million.
It was while Downing was quizzing him more on these transactions that Gates appeared to struggle to remember which expenses were legitimate, leading to Downing’s remark that Gates “seemed to have perfect recollection” prior to cross-examination.
“Have they presented you with so many lies that you can’t remember?” Downing asked.
Gates replied no.
Correction: This post originally said Gates had joined the Trump administration transition team. He joined the inaugural committee.