ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A day after giving a coy answer to the judge about whether it would call Rick Gates as a witness, the prosecution confirmed Thursday that the plan remains for Gates to testify in the ongoing Virginia trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
“We have every intention to call him as witness,” prosecutor Greg Andres said in court before the jury was ushered into the room.
For months, Gates has been shaping up to be the key government witness in the case, after he agreed in February to cooperate with investigators. Gates was a longtime protege of Manafort’s, and was originally indicted with him by separate federal grand juries in Virginia and Washington, DC.
During opening statements, Manafort’s lawyer signaled his defense would largely be built on not only tearing down Gates’ credibility but pinning the blame for alleged financial misdeeds on Gates, including claiming that Gates embezzled money from Manafort.
“The foundation of the special counsel’s case rests squarely on this witness,” Manafort’s attorney, Thomas Zehnle, said.
But then in court Wednesday, one of the prosecutors on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team was suddenly noncommittal about whether Gates would even be called.
“He may testify in this case, he may not,” said prosecutor Uzo Asonye.
Prosecutors explained their coyness to the judge Thursday, saying that the jury had been present at the time and they didn’t think it was appropriate for the jury to hear that they planned to call Gates as a witness.