Beware the intern. Rick Gates first met Paul Manafort in 1995 when he was an ambitious young man. Soon he ascended to become partners in crime with him. The end of the affair was abundantly on evidence in the trial of Manafort today, where Manafort’s former deputy and Trump campaign official Gates took the stand to testify. Asked whether he had committed any crimes together with Manafort, he responded, “Yes.” At least he didn’t reply, “Da.”
Manafort fixed Gates with a steely gaze, but it didn’t deter his old chum from explaining that they had established no less than 15 foreign bank accounts in an effort to avoid paying taxes to the U.S. government. He also divulged that he had pilfered several hundred thousand dollars from Manafort along the way. (Was he, too, intent on procuring an ostrich jacket, à la his boss?) The accounts Gates set up in Cyprus and elsewhere functioned as the destination point for the millions that they received from oligarchs in Ukraine: “I was the one who helped organise the paperwork and initiate the wire transfers, ” Gates stated. But he made it clear that he was working, at every step of the way, under orders from Manafort.
With so much evidence accumulating of financial peculation, the question isn’t really whether Manafort is guilty, but why he continues to proclaim his innocence. Perhaps he’s banking on a pardon from Donald Trump. Writing in the Washington Post, William D. Ruckleshaus, who was acting director of the FBI in 1973, observes, “President Trump is acting with a desperation I’ve seen only once before in Washington: 45 years ago when President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Nixon was fixated on ending the Watergate investigation, just as Trump wants to shut down the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.”
But the trial — and Gates’ testimony — has already dented Trump’s regular contention that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is merely conducting a witch hunt, not to mention his admission in a tweet that his son Don Jr. was soliciting dirt on Hillary Clinton during the famous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. The miasma of corruption that swirled around Manafort is not something that Trump can easily elude. At a minimum, it raises the question of why he made such a dubious character his campaign manager in March 2016 in the first place.
Still, Manafort played a decisive role in Trump’s campaign, instilling order out of chaos. Absent Manafort maybe Trump wouldn’t even be president. Manafort apparently did everything on a grand scale, from larceny to kingmaking. Now his main hope rests with discrediting Gates, whose cross-examination will take place tomorrow. Trump is supposed to be on vacation in New Jersey, but he is surely watching the tribulations of his old confederate with mounting fear.