ALEXANDRIA, VA — A lawyer for the Mueller team was noncommittal Wednesday when Judge T.S. Ellis asked whether longtime Paul Manafort associate Rick Gates will testify in the trial.
“He may testify in this case, he may not,” said Uzo Asonye, a lawyer for the prosecution.
After that comment from Asonye, several people in the courtroom, likely reporters, scurried out the door.
“This was news to me,” Ellis said, adding that it was probably also news to the people who ran out of the room.
Ellis asked whether Gates would testify while quizzing Asonye on the reasoning behind asking the witness, the FBI agent who conducted the search of Manafort’s Virginia condo, about certain documents. Ellis, in asking whether Gates would testify, suggested that later witnesses might be able to speak to the documents.
When he left it open whether Gates would testify, Asonye seemed to be playing coy, likely not wanting to give a heads up about a key witness and perhaps also because he wanted to continue asking the FBI agent about the documents. Asonye also mentioned that Ellis asked the lawyers to try to cull witnesses, apparently suggesting that asking the agent about the documents may eliminate the need for additional witnesses to take the stand.
Manafort is facing bank and tax fraud charges in the first trial brought forward in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. He has pleaded not guilty. The charges against Manafort center on lobbying work he did in Ukraine — work that predates the 2016 presidential campaign, when he served as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman.
Manafort’s legal team previewed his defense on the opening day of the trial Tuesday by throwing Gates under the bus, claiming that Manafort’s longtime deputy violated his trust.
“Unfortunately for Paul Manafort, his trust in Rick Gates was misplaced,” Manafort attorney Thomas Zehnle told the jury.
Gates was originally charged along with Manafort, but he eventually reached a plea deal and agreed to cooperate with the government. Gates was widely expected to be a star witness in the prosecution’s case.
Wednesday marks the second day of the trial here, which is expected to run for about three weeks.