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Alleged Russian agent Mariia Butina was in contact with former Trump campaign aide J.D. Gordon in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the Washington Post reported Friday.

Gordon, who served as a former foreign policy adviser to Trump, told the newspaper he disclosed their meetings and emails in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

According to Gordon, he met Butina at a party in Washington, D.C. in September 2016 and exchanged a series of messages after GOP operative Paul Erickson followed up to connect them more formally. Gordon also invited Butina to a Styx concert and to his birthday party, the Post reported.

Butina has pleaded not guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia, and is awaiting trial in a D.C. jail. She is accused of carrying out a covert influence campaign, befriending prominent U.S. conservatives and infiltrating organizations like the National Rifle Association.

Gordon confirmed to the Post that their interactions occurred, describing them as innocuous.

“From everything I’ve read since her arrest last month, it seems the Maria Butina saga is basically a sensationalized click bait story meant to smear a steady stream of Republicans and NRA members she reportedly encountered over the past few years,” he said in a statement, adding that Butina reached out to “likely thousand of people.”

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Testimony from Cindy LaPorta, an immunized witness in Paul Manafort’s trial who worked as his tax accountant, suggested that Manafort and Rick Gates requested inappropriate changes to tax documents and doctored letters in order to inflate income on loan applications.

Mueller alleges that Manafort and his deputy, Gates, began doctoring financial documents in order to obtain loans or to get better rates on loans. Emails submitted by the prosecution on Friday, along with testimony from LaPorta, started to fill in the details of those allegations.

Prosecutors first brought up discussion of a loan application Manafort submitted related to a New York City property in Soho, a property that both Gates and Manafort said in 2015 was a rental property. However, according to a January 2016 email from Manafort submitted on Friday, Manafort told an official at Citizen’s Bank that the property is a second residence, and CCed LaPorta on the email, explaining that LaPorta would back him up on that. LaPorta testified that she told Citizen’s Bank that the home was a second residence, even though she admitted in trial that it was actually used as a rental. LaPorta testified that Manafort would get a better rate if he applied for a loan using a residence, rather than a rental property.

In another 2016 discussion of a loan application at Citizen’s Bank, Manafort and Gates told LaPorta that they don’t qualify for a loan because of a 2012 $1.5 loan from Peranova Holdings. LaPorta testified that she then told Citizen’s Bank that the loan was forgiven in 2015. She said that either Manafort or Gates told her to relay that to the bank and that she relied on “their word.” Asked if she believed the loan had been forgiven, LaPorta said she did not believe that at the time. LaPorta also testified that she had seen documents that showed that there had been no payments on the loan between 2012 and 2014.

Emails submitted by the prosecution showed that Gates told LaPorta he would provide a letter on the loan forgiveness and then “chase down signatures.” LaPorta testified it was “highly unlikely” that documents had been signed yet because Gates’ email suggested that he was backdating a letter. A letter sent by Gates on Peranova letterhead declaring the loan forgiven was dated June 23, 2015, eight months before the mention of needing signatures in the 2016 email to LaPorta. LaPorta testified that it was a “false” document that she didn’t edit. Yet she passed it on to Citizen’s Bank, according to the emails and her testimony.

“I honestly believed that the bank would have to vet the document themselves,” LaPorta said when asked why she sent the document she knew was “false,” adding that she felt she was protected since she did not create the letter.

However, for yet another loan application Cindy LaPorta declined to pass along a letter to Citizen’s Bank about Manafort’s flow of income in 2014 and 2015 that was requested by Gates.

“I dismissed this letter,” she said. “I couldn’t agree to any of that.” Instead, she wrote a letter including “what I knew had happened,” she testified.

Finally, prosecutors raised August 2016 discussions of a loan application to Federal Savings Bank, which is run by Trump supported Steve Calk. In August 2016, Manafort asked LaPorta to create a profit and loss statement for his consulting firm showing that he would receive $2.4 million in November 2016 for consulting work in Ukraine. He wanted to send it to Federal Savings Bank, LaPorta said.

The statement would record Manafort’s income on an accrual basis (records income when earned), not a cash basis (records income when paid). LaPorta said that typically Manafort’s bookkeeping service prepared his profit and loss statements but that they kept the ledger on a cash basis, which would mean this request would violate that policy.

LaPorta testified that she initially agreed to prepare the profit and loss statement but declined to do so when she never received documents supporting Manafort’s claim that he would be paid in November 2016.

Manafort is on trial in Virginia for tax fraud and bank fraud charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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We live in the age of the accidental conspiracy theory tweet.

The head of a Florida county GOP found himself in the hot seat last month for a July 4 tweet inviting voters to learn more about the “cryptic” QAnon conspiracy.

“You may have heard rumours about QAnon, also known as Q, who is a mysterious anonymous inside leaker of deep state activities and counter activities by President Trump,” the Hillsborough County GOP’s since-deleted tweet read.

It linked to an hour-long YouTube video called “Q Anon for Beginners.”

Hillsborough County GOP chairman Jim Waurishuk rushed to tamp down the ensuing media controversy, assuring publications that his group did not endorse the bizarre strings of hidden clues and associations that compose the fringe conspiracy.

But Waurishuk’s own Twitter account includes several posts about QAnon, and his blog posts for far-right news site “America Out Loud” routinely reference the sorts of deep state anti-Trump conspiracies that QAnon followers believe should land members of the Obama administration in jail. Both Waurishuk and QAnon adherents, for example, put stock in President Trump’s claim that there was a spy embedded in Trump’s 2016 campaign and think that Hillary Clinton committed treason.

Reached by telephone Friday, Waurishuk reiterated that he does not believe in “conspiracy theory stuff.”

Asked about the tweets on his page referencing QAnon, he said, “I have no idea how that happened.”

The Hillsborough County GOP’s QAnon problem started back in mid-July, when reporter Will Sommers noticed its pinned tweet. The Tampa Bay Times subsequently did a story on the post, which was also pinned to the top of the group’s Facebook page, and the national media latched on to the controversy, publishing stories of their own.

Waurishuk said the group’s posts were merely meant to be “informational” and removed them.

Then, this week, the QAnon phenomena rocketed from the fringes of Twitter and 8Chan to the national stage thanks to Trump’s rally in Tampa. Supporters carrying “Q” signs cheered from the stands at the Florida State Fairgrounds, where the President was introduced by Waurishuk.

The next day, dozens of publications posted explainers on the baffling conspiracy theory, which holds that the mysterious U.S. intelligence official, who holds a “Q”-level security clearance, is doling out “breadcrumbs” of information to his followers to prepare them for the coming “Storm.” The storm, according to Q’s followers, will be a Trump-imposed coup in which all of the President’s enemies—deep state-rs, globalist elites, and pedophiles masquerading as Democratic politicians—are arrested.

Those stories resurrected the Hillsborough County GOP’s tweet, prompting a fresh wave of calls to Waurishuk, who was asked to explain, again, how this post came to be on his group’s page.

“We try to watch all the different groups on social media that are involved in conspiracy theory stuff and bizarre kind of stuff, because part of our job as a local party is to educate voters,” Waurishuk told TPM.

He said a board member who tracks these “far-out, extreme kind of things” found this video to be “probably the most accurate,” and decided to share it “for informational purposes.”

“It was just: here’s an article that may help you understand more about who QAnon is,” he said. “Because as I recall about a month ago there were people in our party who were questioning who is this individual or group or entity so he saw it and put it out there.”

The chairman’s own Twitter feed features several tweets referencing the conspiracy.

On July 15, Waurishuk retweeted a pair of posts praising one of his America Outloud articles. Both include the hashtag #WWG1WGA, social media shorthand for QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all.” One also includes the hashtags #Qanon and “TheGreatAwakening,” a reference to an event preceding the “storm” that will come to fruition once Q’s followers solve the puzzle pieces Q has laid out for them. Waurishuk also retweeted a post from a user with the handle “Qanon Freedom Fighter.”

Waurishuk retweeted another message that actively promoted the QAnon phenomenon.

“Thank you for your service sir,” user Sheila Ryman wrote to Waurishuk, a retired U.S. Air force colonel. “Are you familiar with “Q” and #TheGreatAwakening #QAnon.

The video that the Hillsborough County GOP shared to inform local voters about QAnon was also created by a true believer: an Arizona-based paramedic and leading Q propagandist who goes by the handle “Praying Medic.” He opens the “Q Anon for Beginners” video by saying his intention is just to explain the phenomenon and “help you decide for yourself whether Q is worth your time,” but quickly discloses that he, personally, is “following Q.”

With the exception of one Etsy post promoting a “Scone of the Month” club, Praying Medic’s Twitter feed is a fever dream of warnings and predictions about the “coming” storm.

Waurishuk insisted that neither he nor the Hillsborough County GOP endorsed this type of outlandish conspiracy: “There are people out there that are literally crazy.”

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Cindy LaPorta, a tax preparer and one of the witnesses granted immunity by the judge in Paul Manafort’s Virginia trial, testified Friday that she had concerns about representations made to her about details filed on a tax return for Manfort’s business.

She said she did not believe that a transaction classified as a loan was actually a loan as was represented to her but she filed the tax return reporting it as such anyway.

“I very much regret it,” she testified.

Manafort is facing charges of tax fraud and bank fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.

The government alleges that among his tactics was the use of “sham” loans that decreased his taxable income.

LaPorta, an accountant for Manafort’s tax preparation firm KWC, was questioned by prosecutor Uzo Asonye. He entered into the evidence the grant of the immunity from the judge, and she testified that had she not had immunity she might be prosecuted.

She went on to testify about discussions that she, another KWC employee Conor O’Brien, and Manafort’s longtime business deputy Rick Gates had about a tax return they were filing for Manafort’s international consulting business in 2015. Gates hashed a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year, and will be called to testify later in the ongoing Manafort trial, the prosecutors have said.

On a conference call the KWC accountants had with Gates about preparing the 2014 return, they provided him with an estimate of the taxes that would be due for the business.

“Rick said it was too high, he didn’t have the money,” LaPorta said, going on to clarify that the “he” Gates was referring to was Manafort.

Asonye questioned LaPorta about a ledger, assembled by Manafort’s bookkeeper for his business, showing that his business had earned $5 million from an entity called Telmar. LaPorta testified that she believed Telmar to be a client of Manafort’s consulting business.

LaPorta said that on the conference call the KWC accountants and Gates discussed a proposal to change the amount of a loan reported from Telmar. Reporting more of the income as a loan would reduce Manafort’s taxable income, she testified, and therefore reduce the taxes he owed.

They ultimately changed the amount of the loan to $900,000 which LaPorta said resulted in an amount of taxes due that could be paid by Manafort. LaPorta testified that by shrinking Manafort’s income, the taxes due were reduced by $400,000 or $500,000. Asonye also entered into evidence emails between Gates and O’Conor discussing changing the loan agreement connected to the loan.

LaPorta said that the conduct was not “appropriate” because “we can’t pick and choose what is a loan and what is income.” She said she thought it was wrong and could have made her firm vulnerable to litigation.

The following year an additional $1 million in income from Telmar was represented on the 2015 general ledger as a loan. Gates confirmed in an email exhibited during her testimony that the $1 million should be classified as a loan and not as income.

Gates, in another email displayed by prosecutors, promised her underlying docs related to the $1.9 million in loans — which he said were three separate loans — but LaPorta testified that she never saw them.

Prosecutors also exhibited emails showing Manafort had been forward emails between Gates and the accountants discussing the Telmar loan.

 

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A tax preparer returned to the stand Friday morning in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort where he testified on multiple interactions he had with Manafort and his then-business partner Rick Gates in which they denied that they controlled or owned foreign bank accounts.

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye walked tax preparer Philip Ayliff through Manafort’s individual tax returns from 2010-2014, signed by Manafort, where the box reporting foreign bank accounts was checked no.

Manafort faces numerous charges of bank and tax fraud. He has pleaded not guilty. Gates, his former protege, has pleaded guilty, is cooperating with prosecutors, and is expected to testify against Manafort later in the trial.

Ayliff also testified on information his firm provided Gates to explain what sort of foreign accounts needed to be reported to the government.

Ayliff was also questioned about email exchanges he and other employees at his firm had with Gates, including inquiring about the source of money used to purchase Manafort’s town house in Brooklyn.

Gates said in an email that the house was purchased using funds from a savings account belonging to Manafort’s wife Kathleen. Gates said that information came from “PJM,” whom Ayliff said he understood to be Paul Manafort. According to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment, the Brooklyn home was paid for by funds from a Manafort-controlled account in Cyprus.

Later in Ayliff’s testimony, he read emails submitted by the prosecution in which Manafort asked Ayliff to tell financial institution UBS that a New York City property is a personal residence. Ayliff testified that he refused to do so because his understanding was that it was a rental property.

Prosecutors repeatedly asked Ayliff about Gates’ involvement in communications about the tax returns for Manafort and his consulting firm, presumably to head off any argument by the defense that Gates was behind the alleged schemes. Ayliff testified that Manafort asked for the rental property to be classified as a personal residence and that Gates was not involved in that request.

Lawyers for special counsel Robert Mueller also returned to the 2012 $1.5 million Peranova loan referenced in the bookkeeper’s testimony on Wednesday. Ayliff testified that there were no payments on the loan in 2013 and 2014, even though Washkuhn testified on Thursday that Gates asked her to reclassify the $1.5 million loan as income in 2015, explaining that it would be forgiven. In the indictment against Manafort, Mueller alleged that Manafort reclassified a loan as income in order to inflate his income on a loan application.

 

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President Trump has more than a few characteristics that make him a challenging boss. He is mercurial, quick to turn on subordinates deemed insufficiently loyal, and has a slippery relationship with the truth.

Those traits help explain why so many of the President’s associates in business and government felt compelled to document their interactions with him.

Out of self-preservation, a desire to keep an accurate record, a lack of trust—or some combination of the three—everyone from former FBI Director James Comey to former Trump “pitbull” Michael Cohen created records of their encounters with Trump. These contemporaneous notes, official memos, and audio recordings will be invaluable evidence for prosecutors investigating whether Trump obstructed justice or engaged in other possible misconduct, former federal prosecutors tell TPM.

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ALEXANDRIA, VA — A bookkeeper for Paul Manafort revealed at his trial on Wednesday that he and his business deputy Rick Gates sent banks documents claiming to be financial statements for Manafort’s companies that inflated their net incomes by millions of dollars when compared to her records.

Bookkeeper Heather Washkuhn (pictured) said the documents sent by Manafort and Gates were similar to the statements her bookkeeping company assembled for their clients, but had different fonts and spacing, and lacked her company NKSFB’s disclaimer.

One of those documents, emailed to a Banc of California employee by Rick Gates in March 2016, was sent after Washkuhn declined to provide a digital version of the NKSFB statement for Manafort’s company’s net income in 2015.

Another document, emailed by Manafort to a Federal Savings Banks employee, included mispellings for the words “September” and “review,” her testimony revealed.

Those episodes and other details provided by Washkuhn painted a picture of Manafort facing dire financial conditions in the months leading up to his stint on President Trump’s 2016 campaign. She walked through documents provided by the prosecution that suggested Manafort and his deputy, Gates, doctored financial statements when applying for loans, which she could differentiate from the formatting, the discrepancies in the numbers, and the spelling error.

Manafort is now facing charges of bank fraud and tax fraud in Virginia as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. He has pleaded not guilty.

Washkuhn took the stand Wednesday, after the jury had heard this week from political consultants who worked with Manafort in Ukraine, as well as from vendors from which Manafort purchased luxury goods, services and real estate using wire transfers from foreign accounts.

At the beginning of her testimony,Washkuhn said that she was unaware that numerous accounts from which she recorded Manfort-related income and loans were foreign.

The prosecutors allege that Manafort’s Ukraine income dried up in 2014, after the ouster of his client, the Ukrainian president.

Washkuhn testified that in 2016, Manfort’s consulting firm posted a net loss of more than $1 million.

She read aloud emails from January 2016 where she had to ask Manafort repeatedly to direct her to pay certain bills and to provide money for her to pay them. She said that a “couple of times” he was behind paying the bills for her bookkeeping services.

She read a January 2016 email from Gates in which he asked Washkuhn if he could draw on one of Manafort’s lines of credit. Washkuhn replied that the credit line was fully drawn.

In March 2016, Gates asked Washkuhn for a Microsoft Word version of a profit and loss statement, but Washkuhn was unable to provide anything other than a scanned version of a PDF printed from her company’s computer.

In a later email, Gates told Washkuhn that “he” wanted to add $2.6 million in accrued revenue to the profit and loss statements. Asked who Gates referred to with “he,” Washkuhn replied, “I would assume Paul.” Washkuhn also refused to make that change.

On the same day in March 2016, Gates sent an email to an employee at the Banc of California with a 2015 profit and loss statement for Manafort’s consulting firm inflating the income by about $4 million, according to Washkuhn’s testimony.

Additional documents that Washkuhn read during her testimony suggested that Gates asked Washkuhn to reclassify a $1.5 million loan as income in 2015, explaining that it would be forgiven. This lines up with the prosecution’s allegation in the Virginia indictment that Manafort and Gates reclassified a $1.5 loan as income when applying for a loan.

The prosecution also offered two different documents on the insurance policy for Manafort’s Brooklyn property, which suggested that Gates doctored an insurance policy to remove a reference to the mortgage taken out on the property. The prosecution has alleged that Manafort lied about mortgages on his properties when applying for new loans.

During cross examination of Washkuhn, Manafort attorney Thomas Zehnle focused his questioning on Rick Gates’ involvement with Manafort’s finances and Washkuhn’s interactions with him.

 

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A federal judge ruled Thursday that a former assistant to Roger Stone must testify before the grand jury convened by special counsel Robert Mueller.

As the Washington Post first reported, Chief Judge Beryl Howell rejected Andrew Miller’s challenge to Mueller’s subpoenas on the grounds that the entire special counsel investigation was unconstitutionally overbroad in its scope.

The ruling does not refer to Miller by name, but Miller’s attorney, Paul Kamenar, confirmed to the Post that it related to the request brought by his client.

“We’re disappointed with the court’s ruling,” Kamenar told the newspaper. “But the judge obviously took our challenge to Mueller’s constitutionality seriously as evidenced by the 93-page opinion.”

Howell’s ruling orders Miller, who served as a media liaison for Stone during the 2016 presidential campaign, to provide testimony as soon as possible and to turn over all subpoenaed records.

“The scope of the Special Counsel’s power falls well within the boundaries the Constitution permits, as the Special Counsel is supervised by an official who is himself accountable to the elected President,” Howell wrote.

In mid-July, TPM spotted attorneys from Mueller’s team and for Miller entering a closed-door hearing in Howell’s D.C. courtroom. The attorneys spent an hour and a half in the session.

Stone is under scrutiny in the special counsel investigation for his interactions with Guccifer 2.0, now known to be a group of Russian intelligence agents posing as a lone Romanian hacker. The self-proclaimed GOP dirty trickster also met with a Russian national during the campaign who asked for money in exchange for dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Stone has said he’s being unfairly targeted because of his closeness to Trump, a longtime friend.

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That Paul Manafort allegedly spent millions on luxury goods and services using foreign wire transfers of income he failed to report on federal tax forms is an accusation that special counsel Robert Mueller has made since he first brought charges against the former Trump campaign chairman last October.

But at Manafort’s ongoing trial in Virginia this week, prosecutors have hinted that there was something even fishier in his financial relationship with a number of high-end vendors, many of whom were called to the stand to testify Wednesday and Thursday.

A number of them were asked about seemingly faked invoices that appeared to have come from their companies, but were just a little off. Maybe the name of the company was misspelled, or the zip code was off by a digit. In one case, the executive at a home entertainment installation company in Florida explained that the invoice billed for general goods and services, whereas his company went into great detail in its invoices about what its clients were being charged for.

These mystery invoices bear the stamp of a “Loyal Bank” in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A bank by that name was indicted for money laundering earlier this year by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of New York.

The vendors testified that they never saw the faked invoices before federal investigators approach them with the documents. They didn’t issue the invoices, they said, nor did they receive the payments listed on them.

The company often being billed on the invoices, revealed in testimony, was Global Endeavor, which was among the foreign financial entities Manafort allegedly controlled, according to Mueller’s indictments in D.C. and Virginia. The indictments say the entity was incorporated in the Grenadines, and that it was a source of some, but not all, of the foreign wire transfers Manafort allegedly used on goods, services and real estate. The Global Endeavor wire transfers cited in the Virginia indictment begin in 2013.

Prosecutors haven’t explained their theory of the apparently fake invoices, nor have their questions to witnesses suggested any particular explanation. So where are they going with this line of questioning?

A hint about what could be going on with the invoices is in their timing. The apparently fake invoice for a New York landscaper, whose company’s full name and address were missing from the invoice in question, was dated 2014.

The prosecutors have alleged that 2014 was when Manafort’s income began to dry up due to the ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, his client. The prosecution alleges that after years of hiding his income, Manafort then sought to inflate it for the purpose of seeking bank loans, which helped him maintain his lavish lifestyle.

Could the falsified invoices be offered to show tactics Manafort used to create “cash out of thin air,” as prosecutor Uzo Asonye said in his opening statement?

In the D.C. case, Manafort has also been charged with a conspiracy to launder money, but that is not a charge being tried in Virginia. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

However, there also signs that the defense may seek to tie the fake invoices to Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime business deputy who made a plea deal with Mueller and is now the government’s star witness in the case.

Manafort previewed in his opening statement a defense that would seek to blame Gates for Manafort’s financial misdeeds. Manafort attorney Thomas Zehnle even accused Gates of embezzling money.

Manafort’s attorneys, when questioning the vendors about the apparently fake invoices, stressed that the vendors aren’t aware of who was the signatory on the St. Vincent bank.

If Gates was involved with the fake invoices, prosecutors could be laying the groundwork to ask him about them directly, in the hopes of taking some air out of the balloon before Manafort’s lawyers confront him with them on cross examination.

It may take the testimony of Gates to clear up this mystery.

Correction: Due to an editing error, this story misstated Manafort’s plea of not guilty. It has been corrected to reflect that Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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On the third day of Paul Manafort’s trial in Virginia, his lead bookkeeper, Heather Washkuhn, testified that she was unaware that Manafort allegedly had control over foreign bank accounts or businesses.

While Washkuhn was aware that Manafort received payments for work he did via foreign bank accounts, she said that she was unaware that he himself controlled any foreign bank accounts.

Prosecutor Greg Andres asked Washkuhn if she was aware of Manafort bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Ukraine, and she said she was not. Andres also listed several companies prosecutors have alleged Manafort was connected to, which Washkuhn said she was also unaware of.

As Manafort’s lead bookkeeper from 2014 onward, Washkuhn said she kept track of all of Manafort’s income and expenses for both his business and personal dealings. Her work included paying bills and managing his several properties, she said Thursday.

Washkuhn said that she interacted with Rick Gates on matters related to Manafort’s business, but that she only dealt with Manafort himself on his personal finances.

“He approved every penny of everything we paid,” she said, referring to Manafort’s personal finances.

Washkuhn said that she also recorded when Manafort received loans. She told the courtroom that while she always asked for documentation on the loans, she did not always receive it.

As part of her bookkeeping work for Manafort, Washkuhn said she kept a general ledger of Manafort’s incoming and outgoing money to send to Manafort’s tax preparers at the end of the year.

As of lunchtime, prosecutors had only begun their questioning of Washkuhn. Before she testified, Andres predicted that the prosecution would question her for about two and a half to three hours, but Andres only spent about 40 minutes with Washkuhn before the judge ordered a break for lunch.

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