Another Trump Campaign Aide Set To Plead Guilty
Mueller tightens the screws even further.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign aide who was also a close associate of former Mueller campaign director Paul Manafort, is set to plead guilty and become a cooperating witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the election and possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, making him the third former Trump campaign associate to plead guilty in an investigation has yet to reach its first anniversary:
A former top aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days — and has made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort, the lawyer-lobbyist who once managed the campaign.
The change of heart by Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Richard Gates, who had pleaded not guilty after being indicted in October on charges similar to Manafort’s, was described in interviews by people familiar with the case.
“Rick Gates is going to change his plea to guilty,” said a person with direct knowledge of the new developments, adding that the revised plea will be presented in federal court in Washington “within the next few days.”
That individual and others who discussed the matter spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a judge’s gag order restricting comments about the case to the news media or public.
Gates’ defense lawyer, Thomas C. Green, did not respond to messages left by phone and email. Peter Carr, a spokesman for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, declined on Saturday to comment.
Mueller is heading the prosecutions of Gates and Manafort as part of the wide-ranging investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump or his aides committed crimes before, during or since the campaign.
The imminent change of Gates’ plea follows negotiations over the last several weeks between Green and two of Mueller’s prosecutors – senior assistant special counsels Andrew Weissmann and Greg D. Andres.
According to a person familiar with those talks, Gates, a longtime political consultant, can expect “a substantial reduction in his sentence” if he fully cooperates with the investigation. He said Gates is likely to serve about 18 months in prison.
The delicate terms reached by the opposing lawyers, he said, will not be specified in writing: Gates “understands that the government may move to reduce his sentence if he substantially cooperates, but it won’t be spelled out.”
One of the final discussion points has centered on exactly how much cash or other valuables — derived from Gates’ allegedly illegal activity — that the government will require him to forfeit as part of the guilty plea.
Gates, 45, who is married with four children, does not appear to be well positioned financially to sustain a high-powered legal defense.
“He can’t afford to pay it,” said one lawyer who is involved with the investigation. “If you go to trial on this, that’s $1 million to $1.5 million. Maybe more, if you need experts” to appear as witnesses.
The Oct. 27 indictment showed that prosecutors had amassed substantial documentation to buttress their charges that Manafort and Gates — who were colleagues in political consulting for about a decade — had engaged in a complex series of allegedly illegal transactions rooted in Ukraine. The indictment alleged that both men, who for years were unregistered agents of the Ukrainian government, hid millions of dollars of Ukraine-based payments from U.S. authorities.
According to the indictment, Gates and Manafort “laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts” and took steps to evade related U.S. taxes.
If Manafort maintains his not-guilty plea and fights the charges at a trial, the testimony from Gates could provide Mueller’s team with first-person descriptions of much of the allegedly illegal conduct. Gates’ testimony, said a person familiar with the pending guilty plea, would place a “cherry on top” of the government’s already formidable case against Manafort.
The same individual said he did not believe Gates has information to offer Mueller’s team that would “turn the screws on Trump.” The president has repeatedly called the special counsel’s investigation a “witch hunt.”
Gates joined Trump’s presidential campaign in June 2016 when the candidate hired Manafort as its chairman. At the Republican National Convention the next month, Gates directly handled the campaign’s operations as Manafort’s top aide.
Perhaps the most controversial step taken by Trump’s campaign at the convention concerned how the U.S. should deal with the tense relations between Russia and Ukraine, which repudiated Moscow in a 2014 revolt.
When a delegate proposed that the Republican platform call for “providing lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine’s military in its struggle against Russia-backed armed forces, the Trump campaign defeated the effort. Instead of U.S. weaponry, the convention platform committee accepted the campaign’s substitute language, which offered Ukraine “appropriate assistance.”
Gates would be the third person to plead guilty and become a cooperating witness in Mueller’s investigation, which began in May of last year when he was appointed in the wake of the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey, an act which President Trump admitted thereafter was motivated largely by concerns about the bureau’s investigation of Russian interference in the campaign and of Trump campaign official. The other guilty pleas came from George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Gates, of course, was indicted back in October along with Manafort on charges largely unrelated to either the Russian election interference campaign or the Trump campaign. In addition to these witnesses, it was also announced on Friday that Mueller had secured a plea agreement with an individual in California who was involved with the Russian social media disinformation campaign that was the subject of the indictment handed down on Friday. That individual, though, had no known connection to the Trump campaign itself.
According to reports, it isn’t believed that Gates has much information to offer Mueller regarding either the Russian interference campaign or any Trump campaign contact with Russian officials. However, the fact that he was a close aide to Manafort both during the campaign and stretching back to long before the two became involved with Trump’s campaign could mean he has information regarding some of the contacts with Russian officials, such as the now famous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower involving Manafort and other campaign officials and a lawyer closely associated with the Russian government. As a result, it seems that the primary purpose of securing a plea deal with Gates is to tighten the screws on Manafort, who very well may have such information that he would be willing to share with Mueller in exchange for a plea deal of his own. Alternatively, of course, Gates will end up being a witness against Manafort at his trial, which has yet to be scheduled and could be delayed by the fact that Mueller is apparently considering adding additional charges to the indictment against Manafort. In any case, while it remains to be seen what Gates;’s impending guilty plea may mean for the Russia investigation itself, this is yet another indication that Mueller’s investigation is proceeding apace at a methodical, well thought out and planned pace. Where it all leads is something only time will tell.