Star witness testimony ends under attack by ex-Trump aide Manafort's lawyer

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank fraud, tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.

Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for United States President Donald Trump. Picture: Twitter/@RedTRaccoon

ALEXANDRIA - Star government witness Rick Gates ended three days of testimony on Wednesday after admitting he lied, stole money and cheated as lawyers for US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort attacked his character.

Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing got in a final shot in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, raising the possibility Gates had four extramarital affairs and then asking if he had a “secret life” spanning the years 2010 to 2014.

“I have made many mistakes over many years,” replied Gates, 46, a married father of four.

Downing had completed the bulk of his cross examination on Tuesday, firing questions at Gates for several hours as he sought to portray him as an inveterate liar and cheat to undermine his credibility with the jury.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank fraud, tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. According to testimony, he used the accounts to receive payments from Ukrainian oligarchs.

Manafort, a longtime Republican political consultant, is the first person to be tried on charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Manafort made millions of dollars working for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before he took an unpaid position with the Trump campaign that lasted five months.

Gates, who worked as Manafort’s right-hand man for a decade, served as deputy chairman of the Trump campaign. He pleaded guilty to charges in February and is cooperating for the possibility of a reduced sentence, testified that he helped Manafort falsify his tax returns, lie to banks to get loans and hide foreign bank accounts.

He faced tough questioning under cross-examination on Tuesday about his leading a “secret life.”

“In essence, I was living beyond my means,” Gates said. “I’m taking responsibility for it. I made a mistake.”

Gates admitted to embezzling funds from his former boss Manafort, an extramarital affair in London using firm expenses. Defence lawyer Downing also asked whether he submitted personal expenses when he worked for Republican Trump’s inaugural committee.

The defence has tried to pin much of the blame for financial crimes on Gates.

Prosecutor Greg Andres addressed the defence lawyer’s questions about whether the special counsel’s office had tried to coach Gates on how to testify.

“The only answer I was told was to tell the truth,” Gates replied.

After Gates departed on Wednesday, the jury heard testimony from Morgan Magionos, a forensic accountant with the FBI who traced the flow of money from Manafort’s overseas bank accounts associated with corporate entities he controlled to vendors in the United States.

She said she had identified 31 different accounts located in Cyprus, the Grenadines and the United Kingdom. She also testified that when Manafort produced documents to the FBI in 2017 concerning corporate entities with foreign bank accounts that he controlled, he did not produce records for all of them.

A conviction of Manafort would undermine efforts by Trump and some Republican lawmakers to paint Mueller’s inquiry as a political witch hunt, while an acquittal would be a setback for Mueller.

However, Manafort remains a central figure in the broader inquiry into the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia, including a 2016 Trump Tower meeting at which Russians promised “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and his role in watering down the 2016 Republican Party platform position on Ukraine.

In detailed testimony, Gates walked prosecutors through the step-by-step process on how he and Manafort doctored and backdated documents. Gates admitted that he covertly wired funds out of Manafort’s offshore accounts to line his own pockets.