The tax and bank fraud trial of Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort resumes Monday afternoon with Richmonder Rick Gates, the prosecution’s key witness, expected to testify.
Gates, who served as Manafort’s right-hand man in their multimillion-dollar political consulting business and was also a deputy campaign manager for Trump, agreed to a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller to give evidence against his former boss in return for a potentially reduced sentence.
When he takes the stand, possibly as early as late Monday or on Tuesday it will represent the biggest test yet for Mueller’s investigation even though this case does not directly play into the issue of alleged cooperation by the Trump campaign in Russian election meddling.
The President is watching proceedings carefully as Mueller appears to be moving closer to his inner circle on multiple fronts, and has complained that Manafort has been treated like a mobster — even as the White House has tried to open distance between Trump and his former campaign chairman.
The defense in the case is likely to subject Gates to an intensive cross-examination after arguing during opening statements that he embezzled millions of dollars from Manafort and then turned against him under pressure from Mueller.
Monday is scheduled to begin with Manafort’s accountant Cindy Laporta completing her testimony. Last week she said that Manafort asked her to falsify numbers related to his company’s profits. Other bookkeepers who worked with Manafort testified that he was intimately involved in all his financial dealings.
Prosecutors allege that Manafort financed a lavish lifestyle featuring sumptuous residences and extravagant wardrobes by using millions of dollars in profits that he hid from tax authorities then turned to bank fraud when his income started to dry up. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.