The Paul Manafort trial officially got to the good part today, where two career criminals turn on each other like pit bulls when it became clear that the tax evasion and bank fraud is the chump change compared to the whole "party to treason against the United States" thing.
Rick Gates, a longtime business associate of U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, on Monday testified at trial that he helped Manafort file false tax returns and did not disclose foreign bank accounts.
Gates was expected to be a star witness in the government’s case against Manafort having pleaded guilty in February and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors under a deal that could lead to a reduced sentence.
“We did not submit the required form designating he had control over an offshore account,” Gates told the jury in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on the fifth day of the trial.
When prosecutor Greg Andres asked why, Gates replied: “At Mr. Manafort’s direction.”
Gates also testified he and Manafort knew it was a crime because they had been notified by Manafort’s accountants in emails.
Manafort’s attorneys have signaled they will seek to blame Gates and have accused him of embezzling millions of dollars from Manafort. Gates and Manafort have known each other for two decades and ran a multimillion-dollar political consulting business. Gates also worked for the Trump election campaign.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. The charges largely predate his five months on the Trump campaign but were the first to go to trial arising from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
There is no chance that Manafort gets acquitted. The only question now is how much he tells Mueller about Trump. But the clock on that offer only will last as long as Manafort's next trial date.
To understand how far Manafort is willing to go for Trump, look at the far more interesting court activity happening across the Potomac. In Washington, D.C., Manafort stands accused of conspiring to defraud the U.S. government, of failure to register as a foreign lobbyist, and of obstruction of justice, among other charges — and that alongside a mysterious co-defendant, Konstantin Kilimnik. Earlier this year, Mueller disclosed in court documents that this wingman possessed “ties to Russian intelligence service,” which persisted during the presidential campaign. That case is still on schedule to go to trial in September, despite Manafort’s best efforts to delay it.
But there’s more. Just as jury selection was underway in Alexandria on Tuesday, the chief judge of the federal courthouse in Washington issued a 92-page ruling ordering an aide for Roger Stone, the irreverent Trump confidant and longtime Manafort pal, to testify before a grand jury. The decision was categorical, the third affirming the authority and legality of the special counsel investigation. But this one came with a bit of extra oomph. U.S. Chief Judge Beryl Howell, its author, may also be overseeing the secret grand-jury proceedings unfolding in the nation’s capital — a task that would place her at the center of nearly every pre-prosecution aspect of every public case so far initiated by the special counsel. More than anyone, she’d know that the Mueller probe is no hoax.
“The scope of the Special Counsel’s power falls well within the boundaries the Constitution permits, as the Special Counsel is supervised by an official who is himself accountable to the elected President,” wrote Howell. She also gave Mueller a boost last year in a similar, pre-indictment dispute with a Manafort lawyer who was wanted for testimony before the grand jury.
This is all tough news for Manafort. For months now, he has mounted similar Hail Marys attempting to delegitimize the Mueller probe. Both Ellis and U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson have rejected separate motions to dismiss the two active cases against him. So far, all Manafort’s efforts have been for naught, as has his bid to stand trial at liberty rather than behind bars. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit affirmed Jackson’s order to revoke Manafort’s home detention over allegations that he was tampering with witnesses — a new crime that, if proved, would only add to his legal woes. So there’s little doubt he’ll sit in jail through the duration of both trials.
We’re not done. Jackson this week sided with a special counsel request to not allow Manafort’s lawyers to game the clock on the Washington trial involving Kilimnik, which for months has been set for September. All along, Mueller’s team has been doing its due diligence — turning over certain pretrial materials to the defense in good faith, hoping the other side will do the same as the two adversaries prepare their cases-in-chief. But Manafort’s side hasn’t turned over anything. “The defense has made no showing whatsoever for its requested four-week extension, and to grant it would unfairly prejudice the government,” Mueller’s lawyers charged in a court filing that accused Manafort’s legal team of “gamesmanship.” Jackson ruled later that same day that she’s “opposed” to any attempts to delay the Washington trial.
That’s where the real action will be, and where talk of election interference and Russian conspiracy may be inevitable. With Manafort hanging on by the skin of his teeth, and Mueller refusing to make it any easier for him, patience through all these trials and tribulations may just be the price he has to pay as he hopes that maybe, just maybe, President Trump will throw him a lifeline.
But Trump pardoning Manafort comes with a clock of its own, and that one goes off the first week of November.