Judge contrite for scolding prosecutors

Rick Gates is seen on the witness stand as a message between he and his former boss Paul Manafort appears before the court during Manafort's trial in Virginia. Courtroom illustration courtesy of Bill Hennessy

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III has interrupted prosecutors throughout the trial to encourage them to speed things along. Bank records were put on display during the eighth day of the trial. "I did, to one count, your honour", he said.

Greg Andres, a prosecutor on special counsel Robert Mueller's team, somewhat softened the blows Manafort's attorney had inflicted during his cross examination.

Gates explained that Manafort's financial difficulties worsened in 2014, when Viktor Yanukovych was no longer in power and the Party of Regions disintegrated. His defence team is seeking to pin the blame on Gates, who they say was responsible for day-to-day operations of the business.

Downing's smear of Gates may not matter if jurors think the documentary and email evidence prosecutors presented lines up with Gates' testimony.

Another Citizens Bank employee, Vice President Peggy Miceli, testified that Manafort wouldn't have gotten the $3.4 million loan in March 2015 had the bank known about the rental property.

But while the trial has only vaguely touched on the Trump campaign directly, and the core allegations of the indictment don't have much of anything to do with Trump, the trial has raised a key unanswered question about why Manafort agreed to join the Trump campaign for free.

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The still-secret conversation occurred Tuesday afternoon in the middle of Gates' testimony against Manafort, who served as Trump's campaign chairman in 2016.

Gates spent Monday afternoon and most of Tuesday morning corroborating prosecutors' version of events; the government's attorneys say Gates and Manafort used offshore bank accounts and wire transfers to hide money from the IRS as to avoid paying taxes.

Downing summed up his questioning by asking Gates: "After all these lies, and the fraud you have committed, you expect this jury to believe you?"

Gates struck a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller in February, pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Mr. Manafort had the same path", Gates said.

So far, 18 witnesses have testified in the former Trump campaign chairman's trial. Gates also said Manafort floated banker Stephen Calk's name for consideration as Secretary of the Army, a post he ultimately did not get. Maybe I made a mistake. Manafort made millions of dollars working for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians before he took an unpaid position with the Trump campaign that lasted five months.

Gates' testimony concluded Wednesday following three days worth of questioning, during which he detailed how he and Manafort had 15 undisclosed foreign bank accounts and falsifying bank accounts.

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He also accused the special counsel of having unfettered power, something he sought to cure by limiting prosecutors' references to Mr. Trump or Russian collusion in the Manafort case. "This is an especially severe risk when the core of the case is the testimony of a co-conspirator who is admittedly a thief, liar, and embezzler". Downing had said he wanted to ask the question because it spoke to whether Gates had lied to Mueller's office, and whether Gates' plea agreement would still be valid.

For this Manafort was paid US$4million a year, in quarterly payments of US$1million, Gates recalled, though at some point the currency switched from U.S. dollars to Euros.

FBI forensic accountant Morgan Magionos walked jurors through her special counsel-ordained investigation that revealed how Manafort purchased luxury goods back in the US through foreign bank accounts.

The judge's comments come after prosecutors said in a written filing that Ellis had authorized Welch to watch the trial and the reprimand could have prejudiced the jury.

Ellis has said he did not like having witnesses listen to the proceedings before they take the stand but the prosecution had previously requested case agents and experts be allowed. Gates also provided the first witness testimony that overlaps with Trump's presidential campaign.

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