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Manafort Deputy Details Delinquent Ukraine Payments; Defense Accuses Him Of Multiple Affairs

Rick Gates (right) is the former deputy and business partner to Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman for U.S. President Donald Trump.

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia -- Rick Gates, the U.S. government's star witness in its financial-fraud prosecution of Gates' former boss, Paul Manafort, has concluded three days of testimony and often withering cross-examination, detailing how a Ukrainian political party failed to pay $2.4 million in 2015, pushing Manafort into dire financial straits.

Gates' final day on the witness stand on August 8 saw more unexpected drama, when Manafort's defense lawyer, Kevin Downing, again tried to undermine Gates' credibility as a witness by suggesting he had had more extramarital affairs than he had previously admitted to.

After objection from prosecutors, U.S. Judge T.S. Ellis pushed proceedings forward before Gates was allowed to respond to the assertion.

Gates was charged along with Manafort in late 2017, the first charges to come out of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the interactions between Trump associates and Russian officials and agents.

The 18 charges against Manafort predate his time heading Trump's presidential election campaign between March and August 2016. Though the charges concern money earned from the work he did in Ukraine for the party of then-President Viktor Yanukovych, they do not directly deal with Russia, or with questions of Trump aides' dealings with Russian agents.

Earlier this year, Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their case. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Throughout his testimony, Gates has sought to be contrite, saying he was taking responsibility for past crimes, unlike, he said, Manafort. And much of Gates' testimony against Manafort has been damning.

On August 8, under questioning from prosecutor Greg Andres, Gates recounted how Manafort's lucrative work in Ukraine had dried up following the February 2014 upheaval that ousted the Moscow-friendly Yanukovych.

Gates said Manafort did some consulting for Yanukoyvch's successor, Petro Poroshenko.

He also said Manafort did work for the political party that was set up following Yanukovych's departure, the Opposition Bloc, as it ran candidates in the October 2014 parliamentary elections.

But the wealthy businessmen who backed Opposition Bloc failed to pay Manafort the $2.4 million he was owed for his work, Gates said, and Manafort struggled to recover the funds throughout 2015.

Andres also returned to the admission Gates made a day earlier on questioning from Downing that he had an extramarital affair a decade ago, and that Gates had secretly embezzled at least $2.7 million from Manafort over several years, something that Downing had hammered him on.

In an effort to demonstrate that Gates' affair did not bother Manafort, Andres had Gates testify that he and Manafort had discussed the affair, and Manafort retained him as his deputy. Gates also said his wife was aware of the five-month affair.

Gates told the court he also discussed the affair with investigators from Mueller's office as he prepared for the Manafort trial. That prompted Downing to ask whether Gates told investigators that he had in fact had four extramarital affairs, suggesting that might invalidate Gates' plea agreement and expose him to new prosecution.

Before Gates could respond, Andres objected, and Judge Ellis summoned prosecutors and the defense team to discuss the matter in private. When the trial resumed, Downing suggested that Gates' "secret life" had continued for much longer than just five months.

Trump's name has largely gone unspoken during the trial, mainly because the charges predate Manafort's tenure with Trump's campaign, which began in March 2016.

Manafort later became Trump's election chairman, but was fired in August of that year amid revelations of his off-the-books payments by the Ukrainian political figures.

Gates, meanwhile, was hired onto Trump's campaign as well by Manafort, and he stayed with the campaign through Trump's January 2017 inauguration. He was arrested and charged later that year.

The one mention of Trump's name so far occurred on August 7, when Gates testified how Manafort asked for help in getting tickets to Trump's inauguration, which he wanted for a Chicago banker who later approved a loan for Manafort.

Gates also said Manafort suggested that the banker, Stephen Calk, be considered for a possible administration job, such as secretary of the army. Calk ultimately did not get the job.

In previous days, prosecutors had called a series of witnesses -- including a suit tailor, a home renovator, a real-estate agent, and a landscape designer -- seeking to demonstrate what they said was Manafort's lifestyle, which, prosecutors said, was a large reason why he allegedly hid income and filed fraudulent tax documents and loan applications.

Prosecutors have said they intend to complete their arguments as early as this week. Once that happens, Manafort's defense team will present its case to try and convince the jury of his innocence.

If the trial continues quickly, it could wrap up before the second, more consequential trial against Manafort is scheduled to begin in September.

That trial, in federal court in Washington, D.C., focuses on allegations that Manafort failed to register as a foreign agent when he was working for Yanukovych and his political party.

While Manafort's case is the first that Mueller has brought to trial, the special counsel has charged 31 other people with dozens of offenses, including conspiracy, failure to register as foreign agents, and lying to federal law enforcement.

That includes 12 Russian military intelligence officers who allegedly used hacking and other tools in attempts to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In addition to Gates, others who have pleaded guilty to Mueller's charges include Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Trump has repeatedly attacked Mueller's investigation, denying any effort by him or his associates to collude with Russian officials to sway the election. He has also voiced support for Manafort.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported first-hand on the wars in Chechnya and Georgia and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of war in Ukraine's Donbas.