Mueller team signals it may not call its star witness against Manafort

There are definite signs of big trouble in the prosecution of Paul Manafort for crimes unrelated to Russia and the Trump campaign.  Yesterday saw the judge in the case, T.S. Ellis, rebuke the prosecution for seeking to incite class envy and jealousy among jurors.  But for its part, the prosecution let slip a shocking revelation: that it may not even call to the stand its star witness against Manafort, his former business partner Rick Gates.

Jeff Mordock reports in The Washington Times:

The stunning disclosure came as prosecutor Uzo Asonye was questioning an FBI agent about a financial document apparently authored by Mr. Gates.  Judge T.S. Ellis III interrupted the testimony to ask why the agent was discussing the memo and not its supposed author.

"He may testify in this case, your honor, he may not," Mr. Asonye said.

Journalists and others immediately scrambled out of the courtroom to the report the revelation, amusing Judge Ellis.

"That's news to me and about 25 others who scurried out of here like rats on a sinking ship," Judge Ellis shot back.

Mr. Asonye attempted to backtrack, telling Judge Ellis that evidence presented will determine which witnesses testify.

But that only elicited a sharp rebuke from the judge.

"You know who you are going to call," he said.  "If you are going to call Mr. Gates, this is a waste of time."

The prosecutors may wish to shield Gates from cross-examination by defense attorneys, perhaps fearful that he could wreck their theories of guilt.

On Tuesday, defense attorney Thomas Zehnle blasted Gates in his opening statement.  He called Gates a thief and a liar who embezzled millions from Mr. Manafort's company and then committed financial fraud to cover it up.

Mr. Zehnle also alleged Gates, not Mr. Manafort, was responsible for the crimes prosecutors have lodged against his client.  Defense attorneys could still call Gates as a witness, but that could prove challenging with[out?] the ability to attack his initial testimony on behalf of the prosecution.

Manafort may have reason to smile (caricature by Donkey Hotey).

If the prosecution blows this case and the jurors render a "not guilty" verdict, the impact will be profound.  President Trump's call to fire Mueller and end the prosecution would start to gain ground.  I would not expect Rod Rosenstein to follow through, but the controversy would rage.

Judge Ellis is moving this case quickly, with jury selection – a process that can take days in prominent cases – accomplished on the first day.  I have to wonder if the prosecution is now rattled.

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