All eyes on Rick Gates in Manafort trial

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — The bookkeeper said Paul Manafort submitted fake financial documents. The accountant testified he hid foreign bank accounts. And a series of businessmen said he used international wire transfers to pay for millions of dollars in luxury items.

Friday, a tax preparer even admitted she helped disguise $900,000 in foreign income as a sham loan to lower Manafort’s tax bill.

But the most critical moment in the former Trump campaign chairman’s financial fraud trial likely will arrive next week with the testimony of his longtime associate Rick Gates, whom witnesses have described as Manafort’s “right-hand man” and defense attorneys are looking to blame for any crimes.

Gates, who also served in a senior role in President Donald Trump’s campaign, has been a key cooperator for special counsel Robert Mueller’s team after he cut a plea deal earlier this year. During that process, he admitted to two felony charges, but when he testifies it will be the first time he’ll detail those crimes face-to-face with his former boss and mentor.

The trial, in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, is the first of Mueller’s prosecutions to reach a jury. But lawyers have made no mention of Trump or possible campaign coordination with the Kremlin, the central question behind the special counsel’s investigation.

The trial opened with a display of Manafort’s opulent lifestyle, then progressed into testimony about what prosecutors say were years of financial deception. In calling Gates, the government will present jurors with the first-hand account of a co-conspirator expected to say Manafort was knee-deep in an alleged scheme to hide millions of dollars from the IRS and defraud several banks.

Manafort’s defense team already has signaled it will paint Gates as an embezzler and liar who took advantage of Manafort and flouted the law without his boss’s knowledge. Gates is expected to face bruising cross-examination, and his credibility likely is to be an important test of the prosecution’s case.