Paul Manafort trial Day 6: Live coverageAugust 7, 2018
Former Trump campaign official Rick Gates, left, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on December 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
Paul Manafort, President Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, is on trial in federal court in Alexandria on bank and tax fraud charges. Prosecutors allege he failed to pay taxes on millions he made from his work for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party, then lied to get loans when the cash stopped coming in.
The case is being prosecuted by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. We’ll have live coverage here throughout Day 6 of the trial.
9:00 a.m.: What to expect Day 6
Rick Gates at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C. in November. (Shawn Thew/Shutterstock)
Rick Gates will take the stand again Tuesday, and prosecutors said they expect to question their star witness for another three hours. After that, Paul Manafort’s defense attorneys will get their turn to inquire of Gates. Factoring in breaks and lunch, his testimony could be the only that jurors hear on Tuesday.
Gates is a pivotal witness, and already, his testimony has been explosive. He conceded that he committed crimes with Manafort — crimes which he described to the FBI and prosecutors in 20 meetings to prepare for his testimony. But Gates also admitted committing wrongdoing all on his own, including embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his former business partner.
For prosecutors, Gates’s testimony is key to proving that Manafort knowingly defrauded banks and the IRS and failed to file required documents. While Manafort’s accountant recently testified she believed she was submitting fraudulent documents on Manafort’s behalf, Gates can say conclusively what Manafort knew about that, and what directions Manafort gave.
For defense attorneys, Gates is an equally pivotal witness. They have essentially hinged their case on tearing him down, asserting that he committed fraud to hide his own wrongdoing, then cut a plea deal.
Whether jurors believe Gates will be critical, though the prosecution’s case does not necessarily rise and fall with his testimony. Prosecutors already have introduced emails showing Manafort was copied as some fraud seemed to be discussed, and they say they will show jurors more evidence to support Gates’s account.
Testimony resumes at 9:30 a.m.
Judge T.S. Ellis III at a naturalization ceremony for immigrants who are becoming U.S. citizens. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)
9:37 a.m.: Behind judge’s clash with prosecutors, sharp opinions about special counsels
Judge Ellis has clashed repeatedly with prosecutors for Robert S. Mueller III’s special counsel throughout Paul Manafort’s trial, chastising them for introducing evidence he deems irrelevant, spending too much time on some issues and even for showing their frustration in their faces.
Ellis is never shy about telling lawyers what he thinks, but it is rare for him to so aggressively criticize prosecutors in trial. More often, his caustic remarks about wasted time and his interruptions mid-testimony come at a defendant’s expense. More than own defense lawyer has appealed to the Fourth Circuit on those grounds.
However, Ellis has made clear that he has no love for the special counsel. He told prosecutors earlier this year that “the American people feel pretty strongly about no one having unfettered power.”
While he ruled that Mueller did have the authority to bring the charges against Manafort, he added in his opinion that “the wisdom of allowing all links between individuals associated with President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government to be subject to investigation, irrespective of how stale those connections might be, is seriously in doubt.”
The latitude given to special prosecutors is an issue that has long concerned Ellis. In his opinion allowing the Manafort prosecution to go forward, despite his misgivings, he cited a 1997 judicial symposium he helped moderate called, “The Independent Counsel Process: Is It Broken and How Should It Be Fixed?”
“The longer that an independent prosecutor remains an independent prosecutor, the more likely it is that he or she becomes politicized in one way or another,” Ellis said during that conference.
He expressed similar concerns about Mueller, and was not persuaded that the special counsel differs significantly from the independent prosecutors created after Watergate and eliminated after Kenneth Star’s five-year investigation of Bill Clinton.
“To provide a Special Counsel with a large budget and to tell him or her to find crimes allows a Special Counsel to pursue his or her targets without the usual time or budget constraints facing ordinary prosecutors, encouraging substantial elements of the public to conclude that the Special Counsel is being deployed as a political weapon,” he wrote in May.
A better way to deal with Russian interference in the 2016 election, he argued, would be a bipartisan commission (something Republicans in Congress have blocked).
At the same time, Ellis noted Monday evening that the special counsel has evidence Manafort committed tax and bank fraud. The more they stick to the facts, he said — that he did not pay his taxes or report foreign bank accounts, and that he submitted fraudulent loan applications — the less he will intervene.