Rick Gates becomes the key witness in Paul Manafort’s criminal trial

The most anticipated witness from the first trial to come through special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe could take the stand as early as Monday. the idea’s a crucial development for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, whose lawyers have placed his longtime business partner, Rick Gates, at the heart of the fraud along with conspiracy trial.

Gates, 46, has already pleaded guilty to lying to investigators along with conspiracy against the United States along with has agreed to fully cooperate with Mueller’s team, producing him a valuable voice for the prosecution.

although Manafort’s lawyers, too, have utilized Gates in their argument, framing him as the donkey on which to pin all willful wrongdoing. Manafort’s lawyers contend in which the idea was Gates who intentionally misled Manafort to embezzle money.

Prosecutors spent the first week of the trial leading more than 12 witnesses along with dozens of exhibits through the courtroom, seeking to show in which Manafort broke U.S. finance laws to maintain a lavish lifestyle. Gates was Manafort’s right-hand man for years during the former’s career as a lobbyist along with political consultant in Ukraine for the pro-Russian Party of Regions.

Some experts think Mueller’s team faces risks in bringing Gates to the witness stand. He could be viewed as an unreliable source who can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

“I think the idea’s a little bit risky” for the prosecutors, said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney in Michigan, who believes Mueller’s team might be able to win without calling Gates to testify. “He has to admit he lied,” along with could be viewed as an unlikable figure by the jury, she said.

Defense attorneys posed the trial as a test of credibility between Manafort along with Gates. In his opening statement last week, Manafort lawyer Thomas Zehnle said his client “placed his trust from the wrong person” by allowing Gates to handle his finances. Zehnle accused Gates of embezzling money through Manafort along with asked the jury to assess Gates’ credibility.

Some of the witnesses from the case appeared to bolster in which argument. On Friday, accountant Cindy LaPorta, testifying under a grant of immunity, told prosecutors in which the idea was Gates who directed Manafort’s tax preparers to change loan amounts producing sure in which Manafort might be able to pay his 2014 tax bills.

She went along with the idea, though she said in court in which “I very much regret” doing so.

although another witness, bookkeeper Heather Washkuhn, said in which Manafort had approved “every penny” of the bills she paid for him. She along with others said they were unfamiliar with the names of foreign companies in which Manafort will be alleged to have used to pay for lavish personal items, including “closets full” of ultra-expensive clothing, cars along with landscaping worth millions of dollars.

Still, most experts say the government has no choice although to call its star witness. Brett Kappel, a campaign finance expert with law firm Akerman LLP, said Mueller’s lawyers should not rest their case without calling Gates. He suggested in which “the prosecution will put him on to demonstrate in which he was a conduit for instructions through Manafort to the accountants along with bookkeepers.”

Gates could face nearly six years in prison, though the special counsel could ask the court to reduce his sentencing time depending on his willingness to cooperate with investigators.

Facing dozens of charges in Washington along with Virginia federal court cases centered around his along with Manafort’s roles in an alleged scheme to hide foreign lobbying money through U.S. authorities, Gates struck the plea deal with Mueller’s team in February.

Manafort, however, has pleaded not guilty to all charges brought against him by the special counsel. In a separate civil case, Manafort had accused the Justice Department along with Mueller, who will be tasked with investigating potential coordination between the Trump campaign along with Russia, of exceeding their authority.

The trial resumed Monday afternoon. Judge T.S. Ellis has been pushing prosecutors to expedite their case along with drop extraneous evidence. As a result, prosecutors said Wednesday in which they were ahead of schedule, along with required to conclude their case in chief This specific week.

The most serious charges against Manafort are nine counts of bank fraud along with conspiracy. If convicted, Manafort could be sentenced to as much as 30 years in prison for each count.

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