Rick Gates has described his theft as ‘unauthorised transactions’ instead of embezzlementIn blistering and aggressive questioning aimed at undermining the credibility of the US government’s star witness, a defence lawyer has accused the protege of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of being immersed in “so many lies” he can’t remember them all and demanded to know how a jury could possibly trust him.
Defence lawyer Kevin Downing began his cross-examination of longtime Manafort deputy Rick Gates by confronting 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 in Manafort’s fraud trial have mostly avoided: discussion of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The charges are not related to Manafort’s work with the Trump campaign.
The questioning was aimed at shifting blame from Manafort onto Gates, a fellow Trump campaign aide who pleaded guilty in Mueller’s investigation and agreed to cooperate with investigators by testifying in the financial fraud trial.
“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 defence 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 “unauthorised 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.
Manafort and Gates were the first two people indicted in Mueller’s investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Gates pleaded guilty months later and agreed to cooperate in Mueller’s investigation of Manafort, the only American charged by the special counsel to opt for trial instead of a guilty plea.