In a combative barrage of questions, a defense attorney accused Rick Gates of leading a “secret life” in an attempt to discredit one of the key witnesses in the bank and tax fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, had largely kept his cross-examinations polite until this point. But on Tuesday afternoon, he accused the prosecution’s lead witness of embezzling funds from Manafort and potentially committing federal crimes. Gates at times struggled to directly answer Downing’s questions, prompting the judge to probe him on his answers.
Downing’s questions and accusations are central to a defense strategy Manafort’s team laid out on the first day of trial: dismantling Gates’ credibility.
What follows are key moments from the sixth day of trial:
The ‘Secret Life’ of Rick Gates
After days of testimony on Manafort’s lavish lifestyle funded by his hidden overseas wealth, defense lawyers turned the spotlight on Gates—accusing him of developing a “scheme” where he embezzled money from Manafort to pay for his own secret life.
For Downing, it cut to the core of the defense strategy: Painting the key witness as someone who cannot be trusted by jurors.
In addition to accusing Gates of committing insider trading and other kinds of fraud, he zeroed in on Gates taking at least hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort’s company without Manafort’s approval. Gates has admitted to submitting false expense reports and wiring himself money from overseas accounts.
“Some expenses had been approved by Mr. Manafort, and some not,” Gates told Downing, after being provided a list of transactions wired into his’ account.
As Downing doubled down, interrogating Gates about which transfers were authorized and which hadn’t, he charged: “You seemed to have perfect recollection” during direct examination, but seem to have “a hard time with recollection now.”
Rattling off a list of wire transfers, Downing put a key question to Gates that he’d repeat during his cross-examination: Were these wires used to fund Gates’ “secret life?”
Downing asked whether Gates used the money to maintain a flat in the United Kingdom, and fly first-class. Gates said he had previously acknowledged having another relationship, hinting that it was an affair. But Downing later charged that those transfers—including money used to pay unrelated trips—would have been inappropriate and “actually embezzlement.”
Gates expressed regret for his past actions at times, but Downing wasn’t convinced.
Downing asked Gates, who testified to falsifying invoices and other documentation to initiate wire transfers, why he lied about those transfers being “reimbursements for expenses.”
“In essence, I was living beyond my means; it was a difficult time. … I regret it, clearly, and I am taking responsibility for it. I made a mistake,” Gates said.
Yet, later, Downing shut down the idea that Gates took responsibility for his actions. In a heated back-and-forth about whether Gates had directly communicated with Manafort about reporting requirements for a foreign bank account, Downing asked for the receipts.
“There’s no record of any such discussions, is there?” Downing asked.
When Gates replied there had been a strong record, Downing shot back: “After all the lies you’ve told and the fraud you’ve committed, you expect this jury to believe you?”
“Yes,” Gates said. He later added: “I’m here to tell the truth,” and to “take responsibility for my actions. … Mr. Manafort had the same path.”
Downing, impressing that Gates had not yet returned money he embezzled from Manafort, took a shot at Gates: “You’re really not taking responsibility, are you?” What about from the “ill-gotten gains” of his insider trading, or the fraud, Downing asked.
290 years or 290 months?
There were moments of levity during the cross-examination, as has come to be expected in Ellis’ courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia.
As Downing pressed Gates about the potential time he faced for his criminal charges in Virginia—before striking a plea deal with the government in February—the attorney posed a figure: Was it 290 months?
Gates replied he didn’t recall the numbers from the indictment.
Downing adjusted himself. He meant to ask if it was 290 years.
“Same response, but I liked your first answer better,” Gates replied to a chuckling courtroom. Gates later told Ellis, who interjected, that he knew he faced an excess of 50-100 years in prison.
Fraudulent Bank Loans
Gates’ cross-examination came after the former Trump deputy campaign chair extensively testified against Manafort on Tuesday morning. Gates described his role helping Manafort deceive banks about one of Manafort’s mortgaged properties, disguising foreign income as loans, and hiding money in various Cypriot and offshore accounts.
One scheme came as Manafort’s cash flow from his foreign lobbying work began to dwindle, and the longtime political operative began pursuing bank loans. Gates testified to faking a loan forgiveness letter for Manafort in 2016, converting a 2012 loan from a Manafort-controlled Cypriot entity into income for a mortgage application.
Appearing to undercut defense lawyers’ strategy to downplay Manafort’s role, Gates testified that Manafort knew of the ploy, and urged Gates to ensure his tax preparers included a cover letter for the forgiveness letter on the accounting firm’s letterhead.