Expected star witness may not testify in Trump ex-aide Manafort's trial

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Aug 1 (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors raised the possibility on Wednesday that an expected star witness may not testify against President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort even as the judge tried to rein in their portrayal of Manafort's lavish lifestyle.

Testimony in the second day of Manafort's trial, the first stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 14-month investigation of Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election, was overshadowed by Trump's call for an end to the probe. Some Democrats accused Trump of obstruction of justice.

Manafort's consulting work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine that earned him $60 million also took the spotlight in testimony in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, outside Washington. Prosecutors questioned veteran political consultant Daniel Rabin about the work he did for Manafort.

The prosecution said in court it is moving ahead of schedule and intends to rest its case sometime next week.

Manafort, 69, is charged with tax fraud, bank fraud and failing to report foreign bank accounts. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Rick Gates, Manafort's former business partner who pleaded guilty to making false statements after being indicted by Mueller, was expected to be a star government witness. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis asked the prosecution whether they planned to have Gates testify.

"He may testify in this case, he may not," said prosecutor Uzo Asonye, a day after the defense made clear in opening statements to jurors that its strategy centered on discrediting Gates as an untruthful embezzler.

When the judge asked Asonye for a clarification, Asonye said prosecutors are constantly evaluating the need to call a particular witness and his comments were "not to suggest we are not calling him."

9 PHOTOS
Richard Gates, business associate of Paul Manafort
See Gallery
Richard Gates, business associate of Paul Manafort
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 02: Richard Gates leaves the Prettyman Federal Courthouse following a hearing November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Gates and his former business partner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort both pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-charge indictment that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16: Richard Gates (C) leaves the Prettyman Federal Courthouse January 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. Gates and his former business partner and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort were indicted on charges that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: Richard Gates leaves the Prettyman Federal Courthouse after a hearing December 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. Gates and his former business partner former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort both pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-charge indictment that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 02: Richard Gates arrives at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse for a hearing November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Gates and former business partner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort both pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-charge indictment that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16: Richard Gates (C) arrives at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse January 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. Gates and his former business partner Paul Manafort were indicted on charges that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 02: Richard Gates arrives at the Prettyman Federal Court Building for a hearing November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Gates and former business partner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort both pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-charge indictment that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: Richard Gates arrives at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse for a hearing December 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. Gates and his former business partner former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort both pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-charge indictment that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 02: Richard Gates arrives at the Prettyman Federal Court Building for a hearing November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Gates and former business partner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort both pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-charge indictment that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: Richard Gates arrives at the Prettyman Federal Courthouse for a hearing December 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. Gates and his former business partner former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort both pleaded not guilty Monday to a 12-charge indictment that included money laundering and conspiracy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Prosecutors have portrayed Manafort as a tax cheat who hid money in offshore accounts, and lied to borrow millions more against real estate in a bid to maintain an extravagant lifestyle once the work dried up.

The prosecution called witnesses to hammer home the point. Maximillian Katzman, of New York's elite custom clothier Alan Couture, said Manafort was one of his top customers and, unlike any other customer, paid with international wire transfers.

Prosecution lawyer Greg Andres reviewed how much Manafort spent each year on clothing, including $440,160 in 2013 alone. Ellis interrupted Andres to say, "The government doesn't want to prosecute somebody because they wear nice clothes, right?"

With the jury out of the room, the judge complained about prosecutors' efforts to show that Manafort's life was luxurious and blocked them from showing one document on home renovations.

"Mr. Manafort is not on trial for having a lavish lifestyle," Ellis said.

When questioning witnesses who provided services to Manafort, prosecutors showed invoices that appeared to have been falsified as they sought to document the fraud charges.

Ellis chastised both sides for using the word "oligarch," saying it has negative connotations and could give jurors the impression Manafort was "consorting and being paid by people who are criminals."

"Of course, there will be no evidence about that," the judge said, adding that oligarchs are merely rich people.

FBI Special Agent Matthew Mikuska, who executed a search warrant on Manafort's Alexandria condominium last year, told jurors about the documents that were seized, describing loan agreements and applications, invoices and wire transfers. Mikuska said agents arrived at around 6 a.m. and knocked three times before entering the condominium with a key.

12 PHOTOS
Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort through the years
See Gallery
Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort through the years
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort speaks at a press conference at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as his campaign manager Paul Manafort (C) and daughter Ivanka (R) look on during Trump's walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort appears at a press conference at the Republican Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort talks to the media from the Trump family box on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Paul Manafort, senior advisor to Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, smiles as he talks with other Trump campaign staff after Trump spoke to supporters following the results of the Indiana state primary, at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump's senior campaign adviser Paul Manafort (L) walks into a reception with former Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, at the Republican National Committee Spring Meeting at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Florida, April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort listens to Ivanka Trump speak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016. (Photo by Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 20: A man with a security credential takes a selfie at the podium as Donald Trump, flanked by campaign manager Paul Manafort and daughter Ivanka, checks the podium early Thursday afternoon in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be President at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday July 20, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 19: Paul Manafort, advisor to Donald Trump, is seen on the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 19, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) Paul Manafort., Convention Manager, Trump Campaign, appears on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday April 10, 2016. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
NA.R.DoleMicCk1.081596.RG.Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole looks up from podium at balloons and television cameras as convention center manager Paul Manafort, at right, points out preparations for tonight's acceptance speech in San Diego, 08/15/96. (Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater, young Republicans political operatives who have set up lobbying firms. (Photo by Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

'TERRIBLE SITUATION'

Trump repeatedly has sought to discredit Mueller's investigation, which is also looking into whether Trump's campaign coordinated with Moscow and whether the president has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe.

The Republican president wrote on Twitter, "This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further," adding that Mueller's team is a "disgrace to USA."

In another tweet referring to 1920s Chicago mobster Alphonse "Al" Capone, Trump wrote, "Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and 'Public Enemy Number One,' or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement - although convicted of nothing?"

Russia has denied interfering in the election. Trump denies any collusion by his campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Moscow directed the hacking of political groups and disinformation on social media to undermine Trump's presidential election opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, and aid Trump's candidacy.

The question of collusion with Russia is not at the heart of the case against Manafort. The charges largely pre-date the five months he worked for Trump during a pivotal period in the 2016 race for the White House, some of them as campaign chairman.

Mueller has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 people and three companies, including 12 people court documents described as Russian intelligence agents who hacked into Democratic Party computer networks.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Nathan Layne and Karen Freifeld in Alexandria, Virginia; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Grant McCool)

Read Full Story