In closing arguments Wednesday in the financial fraud trial of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman’s defense attorney sought to undo the prosecution’s entire case with just two words: Rick Gates.
The lawyer, Kevin Downing, cast Manafort’s longtime business partner and right-hand man as someone who repeatedly lied, and whose testimony could not be trusted. “He lied to you,” Downing told jurors, reminding them that Gates embezzled money from Manafort.
Downing, arguing the prosecution’s case was built on Gates’ discredited testimony, at least twice described the government as “so desperate” to get Manafort, that they cut a plea deal with Gates, which might allow him to walk free.
“He was flawless on direct, but on cross-examination he fell apart,” Downing said.
Downing also touched on Gates’ marital infidelity from 10 years ago, returning to defense claims during cross-examination that Gates led a “secret life.”
“I’m not the moral police here,” Downing said. But Gates embezzled money from Manafort to finance that tryst. Gates was “living beyond his means,” Downing said.
Outside the courthouse, Downing told reporters that Manafort was “very happy” with the day’s proceedings. “His defense team got to address the jury, point out the shortcomings in the government’s case and explain that the government has not met their burden of proof,” Downing said.
He added that he believed Manafort’s chances with the jury were “very good.”
Downing’s final pitch to jurors came after the lead prosecutor sought to head off any challenges to Gates’ credibility, telling jurors the evidence was “more than sufficient” to convict the former Trump campaign chairman on financial fraud charges.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the star witness in this case is the documents,” the prosecutor, Greg Andres, said.
In a brief rebuttal to the defense’s closing, Andres again stressed the prosecution’s evidence. Andres argued that the defense was trying to pin blame on Gates when, in fact, the many emails and documents submitted as evidence all pointed to Manafort’s guilt.
“They haven’t explained the dozens and dozens of docs,” Andres said.
Andres urged jurors to consider evidence suggesting that Manafort directed Gates to commit crimes, including an email in which Manafort described his longtime deputy as the “quarterback” in handling a loan application.
“Guess who the coach of that team is?” Andres said. “Mr. Manafort.”
Later, responding to the defense’s claim that several officials were named but never called in the prosecution’s case, Andres asked whether anyone thought more witnesses and documents were necessary. He suggested that the defense was trying to distract the jurors and make them ignore their own common sense.
“Mr. Manafort is guilty,” Andres said, “and guilty as charged.”
Earlier, in his closing argument, Andres said the prosecution was not asking jurors to take Gates’ testimony at face value. “We’re not asking you to like him, either,” he said, urging jurors to instead test Gates’ testimony and “verify it against other testimony.”
“That’s how you know if you can trust the testimony of Mr. Gates,” Andres said.
Andres, leafing through white and orange pages in his binder, also downplayed the cooperation agreement Gates struck with prosecutors when he turned on his former mentor, a deal that defense attorney Kevin Downing highlighted in the cross-examination.
“We invite you” to look at that deal, Andres told jurors Wednesday. “One day, Mr. Gates will be sentenced for his crimes,” he said, emphasizing that a federal judge in Washington, D.C., will determine Gates’ sentence, not prosecutors.
Andres also referenced a point in the trial when Downing said Gates had his “hand in the cookie jar” while stealing money from Manafort.
“That wasn’t a cookie jar,” Andres said. “That was a huge dumpster of money in foreign bank accounts.”
At the outset of his closing argument, Andres broke down the tax and bank fraud charges into two stages of Manafort’s life: The period between 2010 and 2014, when money flowed in from his political consulting work in Ukraine, and the following years when that income stream dried up. He repeatedly told jurors Manafort was not above the law.
“Mr. Manafort knew the law, and he violated it anyway,” Andres said.
In the years between 2010 and 2014, when former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was in power, Manafort falsified tax returns and hid money in foreign accounts that he failed to disclose to the U.S. government, Andres said. After Yanukovych fell out of power, Manafort made material misrepresentations to banks to secure millions of dollars in loans, Andres said.
“Mr. Manafort lied to keep money when he had it and he lied to get more money when he didn’t,” Andres said. “This is a case about Mr. Manafort and his lies.”
“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money,” he added, “it is littered with lies.”
Early in the trial, prosecutors called witnesses who sold Manafort high-end suits and luxury cars, along with contractors who had upgraded his properties. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis of the Eastern District of Virginia repeatedly denied prosecutors requests to show photographs of Manafort’s pricey purchases, noting that “Mr. Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle.”
“This case is not about Mr. Manafort’s wealth,” Andres said, adding that it is “not a crime to have nice things or wealth.”