DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, this is day seven now of the fraud trial of President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. And that means another day on the witness stand for Manafort's former business partner, Rick Gates. Gates began testifying for the prosecution on Monday. But yesterday, Manafort's defense team started its cross-examination, questioning Gates about his wrongdoings - his lying, embezzlement. He also admitted an affair. To talk more about this, we're joined by former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. He's been following this case very closely. Thanks for coming back on the program.
RENATO MARIOTTI: Thank you.
GREENE: So has anything surprised you in this trial to this point?
MARIOTTI: You know, actually, this trial has been a very typical white-collar defense trial that you see the federal prosecutors bring. There's a mountain of evidence against Paul Manafort. He's buried in documents and emails. There are a number of different cooperators all pointing the finger at him. And Manafort's team is doing what they can with a - with the difficult hand that they've been dealt. So, you know, today what we - yesterday, what we saw was a very, very classic cross-examination of a cooperator where the defense walked through all of his crimes, all of his lies, all of his misdeeds and tried to do everything they could to convince the jury that he's a liar. The problem for them is there's other evidence out there. And the prosecution is going to have a chance to come back today and rehabilitate Mr. Gates and walk through those emails and documents with him yet again.
GREENE: How hard is that to do? If you're the prosecution and you watch the witness who is, you know, cooperating with you get literally ripped apart in a defense cross-examination, are you nervous when you get your second crack, or does this just sort of come with the territory?
MARIOTTI: You know, I've been in that situation many times. I always expected it. I knew it was coming. And what you're hoping for as a prosecutor is just for you to survive it, for the guy not to be completely demolished, for him to have some little bit of credibility left because you know in the end, the documents and the emails and all the other evidence are what's going to carry the day. So as long as that person's left standing at the end and doesn't get completely run over, that's a success. You set the bar low.
GREENE: One of the big questions is whether we're going to see Paul Manafort actually on the witness stand before this is over. And I wonder, I mean, all of this dates back to his time in business before he was chairman of President Trump's campaign committee. But is that context on the mind of Manafort and prosecutors as they decide whether to put this man really in the limelight on that witness stand?
MARIOTTI: So, you know, Manafort has the decision whether or not to testify. He can take the Fifth, and it won't be held against him. It's just purely strategic matter in this trial. I would probably advise him not to take the stand because it will be very, very difficult for him to explain all of those emails and documents. They're just very difficult to deal with. And if he does take the stand and the judge believes that he lies, that can increase his sentence. That said, you know, if you are really losing at a trial and you want to give yourself a chance to win, sometimes putting the defendant on the stand is the ultimate Hail Mary. The problem for the defense is if he takes the stand and the jury does not believe him, he automatically loses. It turns the trial from a focus on whether the prosecution proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to whether or not Manafort is telling the truth.
GREENE: And sounds like the context of his job in politics and working for Donald Trump doesn't mean much at all when it comes to the legal strategy here.
MARIOTTI: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, prosecutors have tried very hard to keep that out of this trial. The defense has tried to interject that into - his role for President Trump into the trial to try to politicize it and potentially get - find a juror who thinks that this is being done for political reasons or it's politically motivated. The judge has done everything possible to shut that down because it's really not proper for the jury to consider. You know, he's not charged with doing anything alongside President Trump.
GREENE: Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, thanks so much for talking to us.
MARIOTTI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.