Rick Gates, former member of the Trump election campaign, has pleaded guilty to criminal charges brought forward by the Muller special council investigation. The investigation is examining Russian intervention in the 2016 Presidential elections and related matters. Gates has close ties to Paul Manafort, a Trump aide and former chairman of the election campaign, who has also been indicted on over 40 counts.
In May 2017, the Department of Justice (DoJ) appointed former FBI Director Robert Muller as the head of a Special Council investigation regarding alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The Special Council is also investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the elections.
Paul Manafort is a political consultant and lobbyist who joined the Trump Presidential campaign in March 2016 as Chairman. In August 2016, reports noted that Manafort had ties to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions. It was also alleged that he illegally received $12.7 million. He left the campaign shortly thereafter. Details have since emerged that Manafort has been under investigation by the FBI since 2014, and also by other agencies such as the CIA, NSA and the Director of National Intelligence.
Rick Gates is Manafort’s junior partner and right hand man. He remained a part of the Trump election campaign after Manafort’s resignation. His name appears on documents linked to companies that Manafort’s firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and businesspeople in Eastern Europe.
In October 2017, Manafort and Gates were indicted on 12 counts, including conspiracy to launder $75 million through offshore accounts, conspiracy against the United States, and false statements. The two men were accused of lobbying for a foreign Government, Ukraine, illegally. They pleaded not guilty on all charges and Manafort is currently suing the Department of Justice. By the end of 2017, former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, and former US national security adviser Michael Flynn had both pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contact with Russians. They agreed to cooperate with Muller’s investigation.
In January 2018, the special council interviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions in connection to their investigation. Sessions was once a member of Trump’s inner circle. Less than two weeks ago, a federal grand jury charged 13 Russians with interference in the US political system since 2014. On Wednesday, a European lawyer with strong Russian ties, Alex van der Zwaan, pleaded guilty to lying during investigation. The court ruled that Zwaan had lied about interactions with Rick Gates.
In the most recent development in the Muller investigation, Rick Gates has pleaded guilty to criminal charges. The investigation charged Gates and Muller with 32 new counts on Thursday. This new indictment alleged criminal activity from 2015-2017, while Gates and Manafort were under Trump’s employment. Trump has thus far maintained that any criminal activity occurred prior to their participation in his campaign. Gates will reportedly offer full cooperation to the Muller investigation in return for the dismissal of several charges. Without the plea deal, Gates could face up to six years in jail.
Gates has claimed that his “change of heart” comes from his desire to spare his family from “public humiliation”. “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,” he wrote in a letter to friends and family.
In a statement released after the announcement of Gates’ deal, Manafort maintained his innocence. "I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence,” he said. “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.” Manafort also faces new charges of bank fraud, conspiracy, false statements, and money laundering. It is expected that the special investigation will use Gates to provide information and put pressure on Manafort.
Our assessment is that Richard Gates’ admission of guilt is a major development in the special council inquiry. Manafort and Gates played a central role in Trump’s election campaign and thus provide a direct connection to the presidency. We believe that that Muller will attempt to use Manafort in the investigation against Trump’s inner circle, particularly his son-in-law Jared Kushner.