ALEXANDRIA, Va. – In blistering questioning, a defense lawyer accused the protege of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of being immersed in “so many lies” he can't remember them all, as he tried to undermine the credibility of the government's star witness in Manafort's fraud trial.
Defense lawyer Kevin Downing began his cross-examination of longtime Manafort deputy Rick Gates by pressing him on his own lies to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators, an extramarital affair and hundreds of thousands of dollars he admitted to embezzling from his former boss.
Downing also ventured into territory the two sides have mostly avoided: discussion of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
The aggressive questioning was aimed at shifting blame from Manafort onto Gates, who pleaded guilty in Mueller's investigation and agreed to cooperate with investigators.
“After all the lies you've told and the fraud you've committed, you expect this jury to believe you?” Downing asked incredulously.
Gates said he did, but the defense lawyer wasn't satisfied. He scoffed at the idea that Gates had repented for his actions, noting that prosecutors have said they won't oppose his bid for probation and getting him to acknowledge he had not repaid the money he had taken from Manafort.
After Gates described his theft as “unauthorized transactions” instead of embezzlement, Downing prodded him to use the latter term – and Gates ultimately relented, saying, “It was embezzlement from Mr. Manafort.”
Prosecutors had braced for the tough questioning by getting Gates to come clean about his own crimes. He told jurors how he disguised millions of dollars in foreign income as loans in order to lower Manafort's tax bill. Gates recounted how he and Manafort used more than a dozen offshore shell companies and bank accounts in Cyprus to funnel the money, all while concealing the accounts and the income from the IRS.
But the grilling got more intense, and personal, Tuesday afternoon when Downing pressed Gates about a “secret life” he said was funded by embezzlement, including an extramarital affair that Gates himself acknowledged. Gates also said he may have submitted personal expenses for reimbursement by Trump's inaugural committee, which he helped operate.
After Gates struggled to recall precisely what he had told Mueller's team, Downing asked if he had been confronted with “so many lies” that he can't keep his story straight.
Downing at one point asked whether Mueller's investigators had interviewed Gates about his role in the campaign, prompting an objection from prosecutors and a sidebar conference with U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. The defense moved on. Both sides have agreed to limit discussion of the campaign to avoid prejudicing the jury, though they did permit testimony about the overlap of a bank loan with Manafort's role in the Trump election effort.
Gates implicated himself in broad criminal conduct on the stand, an apparent strategic decision by prosecutors to take some of the steam out of defense questioning. He told jurors he embezzled from Manafort by filing false expense reports. He also said he committed credit card and mortgage fraud, falsified a letter for a colleague involved in an investment deal and made false statements in a deposition at Manafort's direction.