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, while Trump asked for an end to the Russia probe that led to the charges.
On 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, the judge also tried to rein in prosecutors in their description of Manafort’s lavish lifestyle.
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 the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. Prosecutors questioned veteran political consultant Daniel Rabin about the work he did for Manafort. Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Rick Gates, Manafort’s former business partner, was expected to be a star government witness, and the defense assailed him in its opening statement to jurors on Tuesday as an embezzler. Gates pleaded guilty to making false statements after being indicted by Mueller.
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 attorney Uzo Asonye.
After 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.”
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.
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.
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.”