Speed Reads

manafort trial

Despite strict admonitions from Manafort judge T.S. Ellis, talk of Russia crept into Rick Gates testimony

Rick Gates' initial 80 minutes of testimony against his former mentor and boss, Paul Manafort, in federal court on Monday was strictly business. Gates told prosecutors that he had lined his own pockets with "hundreds of thousands" of dollars by submitting fraudulent invoices at Manafort's political consulting firm, said he'd helped hide millions in foreign income in 15 secret bank accounts in Cyprus and other tax havens to lower Manafort's tax bill "at Mr. Manafort's direction," and lied to prosecutors. The key exchange was when federal prosecutor Greg Andres asked Gates, "Did you commit crimes with Mr. Manafort?" and he answered, "Yes."

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis has made it clear that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors are not allowed to dwell on the Ukrainian oligarchs or Russian partners Manafort worked with to earn his reported $60 million in consulting fees. "You don't need to throw mud at these people," Ellis told Andres in one of their heated exchanges Monday, referring to Manafort's foreign clients. "Yet the names of various figures in Moscow's orbit were occasionally unavoidable: Oleg Deripaska, Konstantin Kilimnik, Viktor Yanukovych," reports Vanity Fair's Abigail Tracy. "As much as Ellis sought to keep them out of the courtroom, their lingering presence alluded to further trials to come."

Accountant Cynthia Laporta testified Monday that Manafort got a $10 million loan in 2006 from Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and never apparently paid it back. Gates testified that "Kilimnik, a Russian who prosecutors claim is tied to Russian intelligence, had signatory authority over some of Mr. Manafort's accounts in Cyprus," The New York Times reports. Kilimnik worked for Manafort in Ukraine and met with him in the U.S. at least twice in 2016, once when Manafort was running President Trump's presidential campaign. After the late-summer 2016 trip, Kilimnik reportedly told operatives in Kiev that he'd played a role in stripping an anti-Russia plank from the Republican platform.