Former Trump adviser agrees to co-operate with Mueller investigation

Rick Gates pleads guilty on Friday to financial fraud and lying to investigators

Rick Gates, a longtime protégé and junior partner of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort, leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse in Washington on Friday. Photograph: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Rick Gates, a longtime protégé and junior partner of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort, leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse in Washington on Friday. Photograph: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

 

A former top adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has agreed to co-operate with the special counsel inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election after pleading guilty on Friday to financial fraud and lying to investigators.

The adviser, Rick Gates, is a longtime political consultant who once served as Mr Trump’s deputy campaign chairman. The plea deal could be a significant development in the investigation, a sign that Mr Gates plans to offer incriminating information against his longtime associate and the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and possibly other members of the campaign in exchange for a lighter punishment. He faces up to nearly six years in prison.

The deal came as the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has been raising pressure on Mr Gates and Mr Manafort with dozens of new charges of money laundering and bank fraud unsealed Thursday. Both men were first indicted in October and pleaded not guilty. The plea agreement was part of a flurry of recent activity by the special counsel’s team. Last week, 13 Russians were indicted on charges relating to a carefully planned scheme to incite political discord in the United States in the months before the 2016 election.

Mr Gates changed his plea on Friday during an appearance in a Washington courtroom, his eyes cast down as the government outlined the charges against him. A man who had made millions of dollars lobbying in Ukraine accepted the fate that may await him: a prison sentence for carrying out a financial conspiracy to hide the money he earned there.

He also admitted that he lied to investigators this month, while under indictment and negotiating with prosecutors about the details of a 2013 meeting about Ukraine that Mr Manafort had with a pro-Russian member of Congress.

What the dramatic courtroom scene might mean for Mr Trump depends on what Mr Gates has to offer the special counsel, though at the least, the plea agreement is further evidence that the Trump campaign attracted a cast of advisers who overstepped legal and ethical boundaries. The indictments so far have not indicated that either Mr Gates or Mr Manafort had information about the central question of Mr Mueller’s investigation, whether Mr Trump or his aides co-ordinated with the Russian government’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 election.

But Mr Gates was present for the most significant periods of the campaign, as Mr Trump began forging policy positions and his digital campaign operation engaged with millions of voters on social media platforms such as Facebook. Even after Mr Manafort was fired by Mr Trump in August 2016, Mr Gates remained with the campaign at the request of Steve Bannon, who took over as head of the campaign.

From there, Mr Gates assumed a different role as a liaison between the campaign and the Republican National Committee and traveled aboard the Trump plane through election day. In addition to offering visibility into the Trump campaign, Mr Gates might be able to provide prosecutors with glimpses into decision-making in the months after Mr Trump’s election victory. Mr Gates was a consultant on the transition team, and in the months after the inauguration, he worked with America First Policies, the main outside group supporting the Trump presidency.

Besides the agreement with Mr Gates, the special counsel’s team has already secured guilty pleas from two of Mr Trump’s advisers. Michael Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser, and George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy aide during the campaign, have both pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and agreed to co-operate with the inquiry.–New York Times