Rick Gates: Former Trump campaign aide pleads guilty in Mueller investigation in sign he may be cooperating

Mr Gates writes in a letter about the guilty plea: 'I will better serve my family moving forward by exiting this process'

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Friday 23 February 2018 18:53 GMT
Former Trump Aide Rick Gates attends a hearing on his fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering on 7 February 2018 in Washington, DC.
Former Trump Aide Rick Gates attends a hearing on his fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering on 7 February 2018 in Washington, DC. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, has pleaded guilty to charges brought on my Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russian investigation.

Mr Gates' plea addressed two counts: conspiracy against the US and making false statements to federal authorities. Mr Gates filed his plea at the federal courthouse in Washington, DC the afternoon of 23 February and no date has been scheduled for his sentencing hearing as yet.

Separately last October, Mr Gates and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort were charged in relation to work the pair longtime business associates in Ukraine. The 12 counts included conspiracy against the US, conspiracy to launder money, being an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, seven counts of failure to report foreign bank accounts and transactions, and submitting false Foreign Agent Registration Act forms as well.

Both men had pleaded not guilty to those charges at that time but it is known that the pair earned millions from working with Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president and a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The charges recently filed in Virginia relate to the money and the indictment alleges that Mr Gates "hid the existence and ownership of the foreign companies and bank accounts, falsely and repeatedly reporting to their tax preparers and to the US that they had no foreign bank accounts."

He also is expected to plead guilty about lying regarding a meeting Mr Manafort reportedly had with a member of Congress and a lobbyist in 2013 to discuss Ukraine.

The charges don't name the lobbyist or the Congress member but filings with the US Justice Department show Mr Manafort and lobbyist Vin Weber of Mercury Public Affairs met with Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher on that date as part of an effort on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

Mr Manafort responded in a statement: "I continue to maintain my innocence. I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me.”

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He had written in a letter to family and friends, first obtained by ABC News, that “despite my initial desire to vigorously defend myself, I have had a change of heart".

“The reality of how long this legal process will likely take, the cost, and the circus-like atmosphere of an anticipated trial are too much. I will better serve my family moving forward by exiting this process," he wrote.

He added that “the consequence is the public humiliation, which at this moment seems like a small price to pay for what our children would have to endure otherwise."

Mr Gates has a young family and the deal he has struck with Mr Mueller earlier this week will likely spare him some jail time.

ABC News reported that a source said it was "gut-wrenching" decision for the former aide who also faced a significant financial burden.

Mr Gates testimony could be a blow to Mr Manafort, who stopped cooperating with the subsequent Congressional investigations into alleged collusion between Russian officials and the campaign team once Mr Mueller's indictment was filed.

However, it is unclear what Mr Gates could offer Mr Mueller's team given that none of the charges filed against him either in October or the more recent charges in Virginia have to do with work he did on the 2016 campaign.

While Mr Manafort was fired in August 2016 on suspicion of his foreign ties, Mr Gates stayed on the team and even served as a consultant to the transition team after Mr Trump's election victory.

It was during this time that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had reportedly spoken with former Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. He pleaded guilty late last year to lying to the FBI about the December 2016 conversation.

The retired three-star Army Lieutenant General had also misled Vice President Mike Pence, then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer about conversations he had with Mr Kislyak, who had then repeated the false claims to the public.

George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy aide during the campaign, also pleaded guilty for lying to Mr Mueller's team about a meeting with a Russian national.

Mr Gates' plea also comes on the heels of the stunning indictment last week that laid out a broad operation of election meddling by Russia, which began in 2014, and employed fake social media accounts and on-the-ground politicking to promote Trump's campaign, disparage Hillary Clinton and sow division and discord widely among the US electorate.

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