Manafort deputy testifies

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The longtime deputy to Paul Manafort began testifying Monday in the financial fraud trial of the former Trump campaign chairman, producing a hugely anticipated courtroom showdown between two business associates who once worked closely together and played important roles in the Republican president’s election bid.

Rick Gates has been regarded as a crucial witness for the government ever since he pleaded guilty earlier this year to two felony charges and agreed to cooperate in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Manafort’s defense has sought to blame Gates, described by witnesses as his “right-hand man,” for any illegal conduct and accused him of embezzling millions of dollars from Manafort. Gates, who also served in a senior role in President Donald Trump’s campaign, is expected to face aggressive cross-examination once prosecutors are finished questioning him.

The criminal case has nothing to do with either man’s work for the Trump campaign, and there’s been no discussion during the trial about whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia — the central question Mueller’s team has tried to answer. But Trump has shown interest in the proceedings, tweeting support for Manafort and suggesting that he had been treated worse than gangster Al Capone.

The trial opened last week with a display of Manafort’s opulent lifestyle, then progressed into testimony about what prosecutors say were years of financial deception. In calling Gates, the government will present jurors with the firsthand account of a co-conspirator expected to say Manafort was knee-deep in an alleged scheme to hide millions of dollars from the IRS and defraud several banks.