Rick Gates Pleads Guilty And Begins Cooperating With Mueller's Russia Investigation

Feb 23, 2018
Originally published on February 24, 2018 1:04 am

Updated at 5:28 p.m. ET

Rick Gates, the business partner of Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, pleaded guilty on Friday to two charges and will begin cooperating with federal prosecutors investigating the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Gates appeared in federal court on Friday afternoon. He told Judge Amy Berman Jackson he was making the plea of his own free will.

Under U.S. sentencing guidelines, Gates could get between four and six years in prison, but prosecutors said they would consider Gates' cooperation with their investigation and could later ask the court to be lenient.

According to new court documents filed in the case, Gates has pleaded guilty to two charges.

The first is conspiracy against the United States for "impeding, impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful governmental functions of a government agency, namely" the Justice Department and the Treasury Department.

The second is making false statements. According to court documents, Gates lied to the special counsel and the FBI on Feb. 1 about a meeting that took place in March 2013 and was attended by Manafort, a "senior lobbyist" who is unnamed and a member of Congress who is unnamed.

Gates acknowledged lying about there being no discussions about Ukraine at the meeting.

The member of Congress was California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and the lobbyist was former member of Congress Vin Weber, now a partner with the firm Mercury.

A spokesman for Rohrabacher, Ken Grubbs, said Rohrabacher has long acknowledged the meeting took place.

"The three reminisced and talked mostly about politics," Grubbs said. "The subject of Ukraine came up in passing. It is no secret that Manafort represented [then-Ukrainian President] Viktor Yanukovych's interests, but as chairman of the relevant European subcommittee, the congressman has listened to all points of view on Ukraine. We may only speculate that Manafort needed to report back to his client that Ukraine was discussed."

The superseding indictments

Gates' guilty plea on Friday followed a new indictment from Thursday evening in which prosecutors led by special counsel Robert Mueller leveled even more charges against Manafort and Gates than they had been facing before. The two men were accused of laundering millions of dollars from overseas, hiding money from the IRS and other crimes.

Manafort plans to continue fighting the charges.

"Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pled today, I continue to maintain my innocence," he said in a written statement on Friday.

Continued Manafort: "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."

On Friday evening after Gates' plea in federal court, the special counsel's office unveiled another superseding indictment against Manafort. The new charges against the onetime Trump campaign chairman include conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and making false statements.

Neither Manafort nor Gates has been charged with conspiring with Russia's attack on the 2016 election. Gates' change in plea, however, raises the prospect that Manafort's legal situation also could change again.

Prosecutors could use testimony from Gates to make what would be essentially a case against Manafort for colluding with the 2016 Russian election interference effort, if there is one to be made.

Gates' evidence may increase the likelihood of a conviction on the charges already leveled against Manafort. Gates also could have additional information about Manafort that could result in new charges against him.

One possibility is that Manafort and his lawyers, cognizant of these perils, might change his plea and ask for their own deal with prosecutors. If that happened, the special counsel's office might ask Manafort to give evidence about other people in the Trump campaign orbit.

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President Trump's former deputy campaign manager is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller. In a courtroom in Washington today, lobbyist Richard Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lies. The plea is the latest advance in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson was at the courthouse and is now in the studio here to talk more about the case. Hi, Carrie.


SHAPIRO: Just yesterday, prosecutors unveiled a bunch of new charges against Gates and his mentor Paul Manafort. Why is Gates pleading guilty today?

JOHNSON: Gates is pleading guilty because the pressure was on. Rick Gates is 45 years old. He has four young children and a lot of financial trouble. He didn't have the resources to fight this case for a long time. He stood in court today before the judge and said he was pleading guilty of his own free will. ABC News was first to report today Gates had sent a letter to his loved ones, saying he was tired of the circus-like atmosphere and just wanted to move on with his life.

Now, he's pleaded guilty to just two charges out of more than a dozen. Prosecutors in exchange agree to drop all the other counts, and some of those counts carry 20 or 30 years behind bars. Now Rick Gates faces about eight years in prison, maybe even less if he cooperates with the special counsel as he promised to do.

SHAPIRO: Looking at those charges that he has pleaded guilty to, they relate to lobbying and financial wrongdoing, not Russia, right?

JOHNSON: Yeah. The first charge he pleaded to was conspiracy against the United States. That mostly deals with millions of dollars he helped Paul Manafort, his mentor, move through offshore accounts, laundering some of it and then failure to pay income tax on those monies. And maybe even more tantalizing, Gates admitted to lying in a meeting with the special counsel and the FBI this month...

SHAPIRO: This month.

JOHNSON: ....On February 1. This means he was already under indictment - not good to lie again to the special counsel. The nature of the lie was about a meeting that Paul Manafort had in 2013 with an unnamed congressman we now know is California lawmaker Dana Rohrabacher and another top lobbyist we now know is Vin Weber. News reports from a way's back identified Rohrabacher. I talked with a spokesman for the congressman today. He said the meeting was no big deal. It was three old friends reminiscing. They talked politics, and Ukraine came up in passing.

SHAPIRO: This guilty plea by Rick Gates leaves his former boss Paul Manafort as the last man standing who has not pleaded guilty. What does Manafort have to say?

JOHNSON: Manafort didn't come out on camera, but he issued a written statement this afternoon. He said he's continuing to maintain his innocence. He had hoped Rick Gates would fight on alongside him, doesn't understand why Gates made this choice to plead guilty. But he, Paul Manafort, is going to be defending himself against these - what he called untrue, piled-up charges in these indictments. Remember; Paul Manafort is 68 years old. This is going to be the fight of his life. He's now facing cases in D.C. and Virginia. Some of those charges carry 20 or 30 years in prison if he's convicted.

SHAPIRO: So as we reach the end of this week, 19 people have been charged by the special counsel, including 13 Russians who conducted an information warfare campaign. There are the five guilty pleas. Where is Robert Mueller heading from here?

JOHNSON: Well, starting with Paul Manafort, who could face trial as early as later this year, there's an open question as to whether anyone else caught up in this lobbying campaign could be charged. And of course, Ari, the heart of Robert Mueller's investigation, whether any Americans colluded with or conspired with Russians to influence the election - that's still ongoing.

SHAPIRO: NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thanks as always.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.