All eyes on ‘right-hand man’ in Manafort trial

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The bookkeeper said Paul Manafort submitted fake financial documents. The accountant testified he hid foreign bank accounts. And a series of businessmen said he used international wire transfers to pay for millions of dollars in luxury items.

On Friday, a tax preparer even admitted that she helped disguise $900,000 in foreign income as a sham loan to lower Manafort’s tax bill.

But the most critical moment in the former Trump campaign chairman’s financial fraud trial will likely arrive next week with the testimony of his longtime associate Rick Gates, whom witnesses have described as Manafort’s “right-hand man” and defense attorneys are looking to blame for any crimes.

Gates, who also served in a senior role in President Donald Trump’s campaign, has been a key cooperator for special counsel Robert Mueller’s team after he cut a plea deal earlier this year. During that process, he admitted to two felony charges, but when he testifies it will be the first time he’ll detail those crimes face-to-face with his former boss and mentor.

The trial, in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, is the first of Mueller’s prosecutions to reach a jury. But lawyers have made no mention of Trump or possible campaign coordination with the Kremlin, the central question behind the special counsel’s investigation. Still, Trump has made clear his interest in the case, suggesting in a tweet that Manafort was being treated worse than gangster Al Capone. And Manafort’s decision to stand trial instead of cooperate has raised speculation that he may be looking for a pardon.

The trial opened with a display of Manafort’s opulent lifestyle, then progressed into testimony about what prosecutors say were years of financial deception. In calling Gates, the government will present jurors with the first-hand account of a co-conspirator expected to say Manafort was knee-deep in an alleged scheme to hide millions of dollars from the IRS and defraud several banks.

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