Lawyers for Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for U.S. President Donald Trump, will face a major test on Monday when they cross-examine an accountant who testified that she helped Manafort to prepare fraudulent tax returns.
The jury in the Alexandria, Virginia, trial heard testimony on Friday from Cynthia Laporta, who described how Manafort and longtime business associate Rick Gates doctored financial statements and backdated loans.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank and tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. The charges largely predate his five months on the Trump campaign.
Since the trial started on Tuesday, Manafort's lawyers have kept their cross-examinations brief and at times shied from addressing seemingly damaging testimony in detail.
But Laporta's testimony raised the stakes for Manafort, legal experts said. Testifying under immunity, she was the first witness to admit she knew accounting maneuvers Manafort and Gates requested of her were wrong and could be crimes. One accounting trick saved Manafort $500,000 in taxes, she said.
David Axelrod, a former federal prosecutor who is now a defense attorney, said Manafort's lawyers need to hammer home that Laporta received immunity for providing potentially incriminating evidence against Manafort, and highlight her own admission that she went along with the accounting for fear of losing a lucrative client, an acknowledgement she lied for money.
"You make her say 'I lied' as many times as you can," Axelrod said.
Judge T.S. Ellis told Manafort's lawyers on Friday they could dig into Laporta's immunity agreement on cross. "You're entitled to go into that in any detail you want to," he said.
Laporta was the 14th witness called by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose case against Manafort arose out of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
The charges against Manafort do not address collusion, although a second trial set for September in Washington could reveal new information on that issue.
Contradicting earlier statements, Trump acknowledged on Sunday that his son met with Russians in 2016 at Trump Tower to get information on election opponent Hillary Clinton. Manafort also attended the meeting, along with other campaign aides.