ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Paul Manafort inflated his business income by millions of dollars and kept his bookkeeper in the dark about the foreign bank accounts he was using to buy luxury items and pay personal expenses, according to testimony during his trial Thursday.
But he otherwise approved “every penny” of the personal bills bookkeeper Heather Washkuhn paid for him, she said.
That testimony is important to special counsel Robert Mueller's team as it looks to rebut defense arguments that Manafort can't be responsible for financial fraud because he left the details of his spending to others. That includes his longtime associate Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty earlier this year and is expected to testify soon as the government's star witness.
“I would say he was very knowledgeable. He was very detail-oriented. He approved every penny of everything we paid,” Washkuhn told jurors.
She also described documents submitted by Manafort to obtain loans. Prosecutors say the documents inflated the net income of his business by roughly $4 million, and they say he tried to pass them off as coming from her accounting firm.
The fraudulent loan documents came after Manafort's political consulting work in the Ukraine had dried up and as he had begun to financially struggle, prosecutors say. Washkuhn told jurors about a series of emails she sent him in 2016 warning that he was behind on his payments, including to her.
Manafort faces charges of bank fraud and tax evasion that could put him in prison for the rest of his life. It's the first courtroom test of Mueller's team, which is tasked with looking into Russia's efforts to interfere with the U.S. election and whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Moscow to sway voters.
While the question of collusion remains unanswered, Manafort's financial fraud trial has exposed the lucrative and secretive world of foreign lobbying that made Manafort rich.
Other witnesses testifying this week said Manafort paid them millions from the offshore accounts tied to foreign shell companies for landscaping, expensive clothing and even a karaoke machine.
When prosecutor Greg Andres read off some of the offshore companies to Manafort's bookkeeper, she said Manafort never told her about them. She said she would have documented them for tax purposes if he had.
On cross-examination, Manafort attorney Thomas Zehnle tried to get Washkuhn to say Gates was heavily involved in approving expenses. The Manafort legal team has been working to convince the jury that Gates is to blame rather than their client.
But Washkuhn said that while Gates dealt with some business matters for Manafort's consulting firm, “mainly Mr. Manafort was the approval source.”
The federal judge overseeing the trial has questioned the hundreds of exhibits prosecutors want to submit as evidence of Manafort's lavish spending.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said the money is relevant, but he doesn't see the need for prosecutors to “gild the lily,” especially considering Manafort's lawyers have not disputed that their client spent his money on luxury items.
Prosecutors told Ellis they expect to rest their case next week, noting that they are ahead of schedule.
Manafort has a second trial scheduled for September in the District of Columbia. It would address allegations that he acted as an unregistered foreign agent for Ukrainian interests and made false statements to the U.S. government.
- Jury to begin deliberating in Manafort financial fraud trial
- Rick Gates' testimony dredges up Trump inaugural spending mystery
- Jury returns guilty verdict on eight charges in Paul Manafort charges; 10 more declared mistrial
- The Latest: Manafort found guilty on 8 of 18 counts (UPDATED)
- Star witness against Paul Manafort admits embezzling from him
- Testimony by 'right-hand man' critical in Manafort trial
- Prosecutors to rest case at Paul Manafort's financial fraud trial
- Cross-examination focuses on Manafort protege's own crimes (UPDATED)
- White House: Trump's tweet about Russia probe was an opinion
- Donald Trump calls on Jeff Sessions to end Robert Mueller's Russia probe
- Manafort accused of amassing 'secret income' as trial opens
- Trial set to begin for ex-Trump campaign chairman Manafort
- Manafort trial to shed light on Mueller probe evidence
- Judge jails ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort ahead of trial
- Manafort accused of several tries to tamper with witnesses
- The year of Mueller: 12 months in, here's what we've learned
- The princes, the president and the fortune seekers
- Special counsel team has floated idea of subpoena for Trump
- Report: Mueller team gives Trump lawyers a list of questions
- Comey says it possible Russians have leverage over Trump
- Trump furious after FBI seizes documents from his lawyer (UPDATED)
- In reversal, former Trump aide says he'll probably cooperate
- New charges brought against ex-Donald Trump campaign associates
- Ex-Trump campaign aide pleads guilty in Russia probe
- US issues 'Putin list' of Russian politicians, oligarchs
- Trump calls report he ordered Mueller's firing 'fake news'
- Trump 'looking forward' to being questioned under oath
- Sessions questioned in Russia probe, Trump may be up soon
- House panel subpoenas Bannon in Russia probe showdown
- House panel interviewing Bannon after his fall from power
- AP source: Mueller conveys interest in questioning Trump
- 13 Days in July: The Trump White House's crucible
- Paul Manafort says special counsel wants to unfairly restrict his freedom of speech
- Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to FBI (UPDATED)
- Flynn may be moving to cooperate with Mueller's Russia probe
- Russia hackers had targets worldwide, beyond US election
- Ex-Trump aides due back in court following indictment
- Former Trump adviser's guilty plea could rattle White House
- With first charges, Mueller sends warning to Trump, aides
- Manafort, Gates indicted in first charges from Russia probe (UPDATED)
- Amid cooperation, some Trump allies urge Russia probe fight
- Emails point to Manafort offer to brief Russian in campaign
- Donald Trump Jr. heads to Capitol to explain 2016 meeting
- Source: Grand jury hears from lobbyist in Trump Tower confab
- FBI agents searched former Trump campaign chair's home
- Senate Judiciary Committee withdraws subpoena for Manafort
- Trump son-in-law Kushner denies collusion with Russia
- Trump Jr. admits he wanted info on Clinton from Russian
- Report: Donald Trump Jr. was promised damaging info about Clinton
- Former Trump campaign chairman registers as foreign agent
- Trump lashes out at 'bad,' 'conflicted' Russia investigators
- Former FBI director to investigate Russian interference
- Trump boasts of hiring only the best, but picks haunt him
- AP Exclusive: U.S. probes banking of ex-Trump campaign chief Manafort
- AP Exclusive: Manafort had plan to benefit Putin government
- Investigations into Russia to continue after Flynn's exit
- Trump campaign chairman Manafort resigns after latest shakeup
- Trump shakes up campaign as poll numbers slip
- GOP leaders hope for momentum boost in Trump campaign shake-up -- but make contingency plan