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Paul Manafort Trial Day 3: Bookkeeper And Former Employees Testify


The trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is progressing at such speed that prosecutors say they might be ready to rest their case by next week. Manafort is facing charges of alleged tax and bank fraud. And today the court heard from Manafort's former bookkeeper.

NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson was there, and she joins us now. Hey, Carrie.


CHANG: So bookkeeper - that sounds like a key witness in a case involving potential tax and bank fraud. What did she say?

JOHNSON: This bookkeeper worked for Paul Manafort for many years. She testified he was very knowledgeable, very detail-oriented and that he approved every penny of everything we paid. The bookkeeper said early on financial statements for Manafort and his company were flush. They helped buy all those things we've talked about, the suits and the real estate and the landscaping with hundreds of flowers that spelled out the letter M.

CHANG: Oh (laughter).

JOHNSON: But as time went on, the documents showed Manafort was having really severe financial problems. The bookkeeper testified she had to send him a list of bills that needed to be paid urgently. That included a medical insurance policy that was about to lapse. There was increasingly a real sense of desperation. Paul Manafort had tapped out a line of credit, was applying for new loans. And prosecutors introduced documents they say were falsified or doctored by Manafort and his associates, that - loan materials that didn't include key details about his properties or overvalued his income.

CHANG: Who else did the court hear from today then?

JOHNSON: We started to hear from Philip Ayliff, who was Manafort's accountant. Prosecutors used Ayliff to point out Manafort had not disclosed any foreign bank accounts on his tax returns. And they introduced some of Manafort's tax returns, both personal and business. Basically, Ailsa, this jury is getting a crash course in accounting and tax issues.

CHANG: Oh, I can imagine.

JOHNSON: And as you pointed out this judge, T.S. Ellis III, has a need for speed. Prosecutor Greg Andres in particular really raced through his questions to cut to the chase today. This is the heart of the bank fraud and tax fraud case against Manafort. But remember; he denies wrongdoing.

CHANG: When we talked this week, it was unclear if Manafort's former partner Rick Gates would be called as a witness by prosecutors. Is there any update there?

JOHNSON: Yeah, things became a little bit more clear today. Prosecutor Andres said today, we put Rick Gates on the witness list. We have every intention of calling him. And the judge responded, this is outside the presence of the jury. Well, of course you can't prove the conspiracy charge against Paul Manafort without Rick Gates, his right-hand man.

The Manafort team, remember, wants to put Rick Gates on trial. They're blaming him for nearly all of Paul Manafort's troubles. But prosecutors introduced evidence today that Manafort was heavily involved in his own finances and that when it came to salaries, at least the ones that were reported to the bookkeepers, Rick Gates made about $240,000 a year and Paul Manafort made nearly 2 million, suggesting who really was in charge in that relationship.

CHANG: So what are we expecting tomorrow?

JOHNSON: Tomorrow we're going to hear more from this accountant, maybe two hours more, although the judge is trying to get the government to sharpen its questioning. And then I think we're going to hear from at least one more accounting witness as the government tries to roll through the counts in this indictment that deal with tax fraud.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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