Judge in Manafort Case Warns Mueller Team Case Could Collapse Without Key Witness

August 2, 2018 Updated: August 2, 2018

A federal judge warned prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team on Aug. 2 that they “can’t prove conspiracy” in the trial of Paul Manafort unless Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business partner, takes the stand.

Prosecutors in the case suggested the day before that they might not call Gates to answer questions. Greg Andres, a member of Mueller’s team, confirmed that the prosecution will call on Gates.

“We have every intention of calling him as a witness,” Andres said.

Gates pleaded guilty to making false statements after being indicted by Mueller. Defense lawyers have painted Gates as an untrustworthy business partner who embezzled funds from Manafort’s consulting firm.

As part of his guilty plea, Gates acknowledged routinely dealing with accountants in the preparation of Manafort’s tax returns and misleading them with false information, although he said he did so with Manafort’s knowledge.

Manafort routed millions of dollars to the United States by putting it in real estate and spending it on expensive suits, cars, and home renovations, according to prosecution witnesses. Prosecutors said Manafort evaded taxes through this scheme. Five of the 18 counts he faces relate to filing false tax returns.

On day three of the trial, the jury heard from Joel Maxwell of a Florida-based company that installs lighting, audiovisual equipment, and automation systems for homes that did work for Manafort. Maxwell testified that some of the Manafort invoices shown to him from prosecutors appeared to be have been forged.

As he did on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis warned prosecutors against focusing too much on Manafort’s lifestyle.

“It kind of engenders some resentment against rich people,” Ellis said, about displaying photos exhibiting Manafort’s wealth.

Mueller was tasked with investigating allegations of collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia and matters that arise from the investigation. Manafort briefly managed President Donald Trump’s election campaign in 2016. The charges against Manafort are not related to collusion or the Trump campaign.

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