Rick Gates, former deputy campaign manager for Donald Trump, walks to his vehicle after a status conference at the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Rick Gates Is Seen as ‘Despicable,’ But His Testimony May Doom Paul Manafort

(Bloomberg) -- Rick Gates might have come across as a reprehensible star witness at Paul Manafort’s fraud trial, but his testimony still may help Special Counsel Robert Mueller get a conviction.

Manafort’s right-hand man for a decade, Gates admitted he cheated on his wife, stole from his boss and lied to Mueller’s prosecutors. Those admissions may not play well with the jury.

He came across as “a pretty despicable guy,’’ said Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor observing the trial. “Gates did particularly poorly because he was needlessly evasive and argumentative.’’

But it wasn’t all bad for prosecutors. Gates also described how he helped Manafort hide millions of dollars that he made from political consulting work in Ukraine. Even though he stole from Manafort, Gates told the jury how he helped his boss hide offshore accounts and income from U.S. tax authorities and forged documents that made it easier for Manafort to defraud banks.

“As unlikeable as he was, Gates did fill in some important gaps for prosecutors,’’ McQuade said. “There’s still enough evidence in the documents and other testimony to convict Paul Manafort.”

Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing attempted to undermine Gates’s credibility with two hours of questioning Tuesday. Downing bore in on Gates’s guilty plea to conspiracy and lying to Mueller’s investigators. He suggested that Gates embezzled $3 million from Manafort, and he asked about the “secret life of Rick Gates.’’ That included an extramarital affair with a woman a decade ago, using an apartment in London paid for with money stolen from Manafort.

Prosecutor Greg Andres sought to rehabilitate Gates on Wednesday, focusing the jury’s attention back to how Gates helped Manafort break the law. After Andres asked Gates why he didn’t disclose a series of offshore accounts to U.S. authorities, Gates replied: “At the direction of Mr. Manafort.’’

As to the London affair, Gates said he told his wife and Manafort about it. Manafort was supportive and didn’t fire him, he said.

Downing came back with a stink bomb.

He asked Gates if he had told prosecutors that he had four extramarital affairs. Andres objected and the judge didn’t allow the question. Downing then asked whether Gates’s “secret life” spanned the four-year period from 2010 to 2014, when he was embezzling from Manafort.

“I’ve made many mistakes over many years, and I regret them,” Gates said. Downing pressed again on whether that secret life covered those four years, and Gates said it did.

Former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi, who’s observing the trial, said that Downing did an “outstanding’’ job of getting under Gates’s skin without resorting to shouting or histrionics.

“Gates was consumed by greed, consumed by power, and he lied to keep the lifestyle he established,’’ Rossi said.

But Gates will ultimately help prosecutors convict Manafort, he said. Rossi said it’s “clear as a bell’’ that Manafort had “some control’’ over the foreign accounts and that he should have reported them to U.S. authorities on his tax returns and in separate reports filed with the Treasury Department.

He pointed to a telling moment in Gates’s testimony about a March 2016 email he received from Manafort. Gates was assembling documents for a bank loan that prosecutors say was fraudulent. “You are the quarterback. All information needs to go to you,’’ Manafort wrote.

The problem for Manafort is that while Gates was the quarterback, “Manafort was his coach,” Rossi said.

McQuade said the paper trail put into evidence by prosecutors as well as other testimony will doom Manafort, despite efforts by the judge to push prosecutors to move faster.

“I think they’ll convict if the jury does its job and sees through the judge’s comments and Gates’s unlikeability,’’ McQuade said.

The case is U.S. v. Manafort 18-cr-83, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.