Whatever becomes clear after Rick Gates finishes his direct and cross examination is that Gates and Paul Manafort truly deserved each other. On the stand on his first day of testimony, Gates admitted to embezzling hundreds of millions from Manafort as he helped Manafort hide millions and lie to the government and banks. It was highly damaging testimony, but the most damaging in my view came earlier from Manafort’s accountants that he was in financial collapse — struggling to maintain an opulent lifestyle after his Ukrainian money machine was cut off with the flight of his main client.
Gates admitted that he filed false expense reports to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars. He is now testifying under a plea agreement with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Gates described dozens of accounts where they moved around money without declaring income. It is the type of evidence that is difficult to square with a jury. Most jurors have one or two accounts and view the necessity of having dozens as more criminal and practical in character.
The defense is clearly going to pursue a strategy to portraying the financial irregularities and violations as part of Gates’ embezzlement. That is a very difficult defense to make work. It leaves Manafort as some type of helpless dupe who unwittingly allowed Gates to carry out a long-standing criminal scheme right under his nose. That contradicts the image Manafort cultivates of a sophisticated international mover and shaker. It also does not fit with the level of income that he accrued through complicated deals and contracts.
The most damaging testimony dealt with Manafort’s accountants and the description of a lifestyle collapsing under its own weight. As discussed earlier, his own accountant received immunity because she believed that she committed crimes in filing documents that she believed were untrue.
The testimony suggests that Manafort may have viewed the Trump campaign position as a type of “Hail Mary” play to get out of impending financial disaster. As shown by Michael Cohen, millions were to be made by selling access to Trump. What was not known was that Manafort was in a free fall financially.
I have previously stated that I would be highly surprised if Manafort could run the tables in two prosecutions in two jurisdictions and knock down every count. Mueller only have to convict him on one to put him away for as much as ten years. However, if he is playing for a pardon, knocking down most of the counts would help make such a presidential act more palpable politically.