ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Paul Manafort’s bookkeeper testified Thursday that the former Trump campaign chairman kept her in the dark about the foreign bank accounts he was using to buy millions in luxury items and personal expenses.
But he otherwise approved “every penny” of the personal bills she paid for him, said Heather Washkuhn of the accounting firm NKFSB.
Washkuhn’s testimony on the third day of the trial appeared to undercut an argument by Manafort’s attorneys that he can’t be responsible for financial fraud because he left the details of his spending to others, including his longtime associate Rick Gates. Washkuhn said Gates was involved only in Manafort’s business dealings, not his personal expenses.
When it came to personal expenses, Manafort “approved every penny of everything we paid,” Washkuhn told jurors.
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 the work of special counsel Robert Mueller, who 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 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 that Gates was heavily involved in approving expenses. The Manafort legal team has been working to convince the jury that Cates 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.”
Washkuhn also said profit and loss statements Manafort submitted to obtain bank loans contained false information. One of the statements was inflated by as much as $4 million, she testified. She said she could tell the document was falsified because the fonts were off and words were misspelled, including the month of September.
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.
Manafort’s attorneys have signaled they will pin blame for any illegal conduct on Gates. He pleaded guilty earlier this year and agreed to cooperate with the investigation, making him the government’s star witness. He is expected to testify at the trial, which could last weeks.
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.
Prosecutors told Ellis they expect to rest their case next week, noting that they are ahead of schedule.