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Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has "every intention" to call Rick Gates to testify in court against his longtime business partner, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a federal lawyer said Thursday.
The remark from Mueller team member Greg Andres came a day after another federal prosecutor floated the possibility that Gates "may not" be called as a witness in Manafort's criminal trial on financial fraud charges.
Defense lawyer Thomas Zehnle shifted the blame for Manafort's alleged crimes onto Gates, accusing him of embezzling money and betraying his partner's trust. Gates pleaded guilty in February to lying to investigators and conspiracy against the United States.
He agreed as part of his plea deal to fully cooperate with the government. But on Wednesday, it began to look as though Gates might not take the stand against Manafort.
Gates "may testify in this case, your honor, he may not," prosecutor Uzo Asonye said Wednesday to Judge T.S. Ellis, who is presiding over the case in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.
Ellis, who has regularly pressured prosecutors to hasten court proceedings in the trial, asked why certain evidence was worth presenting when Gates would eventually corroborate it in his own words.
The prospect that the star witness in the trial may not even show up sent media running out of the courtroom and prompted Asonye to quickly walk back his comment.
"It's not to suggest that we're not calling him," he said.
On Thursday morning, the special counsel's team made sure to clarify their intention to call Gates to the stand.
"We have absolutely put him on the witness list," Andres said before the jury entered the courtroom Thursday morning. "We have every intention to call him as a witness."