Rick Gates, a former top aide to President Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI on Friday, and promised to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Gates and Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort were indicted in October on charges that they secretly worked on behalf of a pro-Russian political faction in Ukraine and laundered $4 million in payments through overseas bank accounts.
Prosecutors piled on another 32 counts this week, revealing another indictment accusing the two of lying to obtain millions of dollars in bank loans and of laundering more than $30 million through overseas accounts to pay for real estate and luxury goods while evading U.S. taxes.
Gates’ abrupt guilty plea and his promise to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation almost certainly intensifies the legal pressure on Manafort, who participated in some of the episodes that have drawn the attention of the special counsel’s investigators, including a 2016 meeting between Trump’s son Donald Trump, Jr. and a Russian lawyer offering damaging information about his rival, Hillary Clinton.
Gates pleaded guilty Friday to charges that he conspired to defraud the United States and that he lied to FBI agents in an interview three weeks ago.
“Guilty, your honor,” Gates told U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson in a packed second-floor courtroom.
Jackson said Gates faces between 57 and 71 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but that he might serve less time depending on the extent of his cooperation with prosecutors. Jackson said Gates can remain free until he is sentenced.
Asked how he felt while leaving the courthouse after the plea, Gates smiled and said, “Very good.”
Gates’ lawyer, Thomas Green, declined to comment, saying he would “keep our powder dry.”
Gatesis the fifth person to plead guilty to a federal crime in Mueller’s investigation, and the third Trump campaign aide who has publicly promised to cooperate with investigators.
Prosecutors also have secured guilty pleas from Trump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn and a campaign foreign policy aide, George Papadopoulos, whoacknowledged in court documents that he met with a person he thought was tied to the Russian government who was offering “dirt” on Clinton.
Gates’ plea caps weeks of legal tumult for Manafort’s longtime business associate, who was hit with the new federal charges Thursday and whose lawyers had publicly sought permission to drop him as a client over “irreconcilable differences.”
Gates, accompanied by attorney Thomas Green, arrived at the courthouse about a half hour before the scheduled plea hearing and walked straight to the second-floor courtroom. The former Trump campaign deputy, wearing a full beard, did not speak as he passed a hallway full of reporters.
Manafort said in a statement on Friday that Gates’ plea “does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges.” He said he 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.”
White House strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp told Fox News on Friday that the charges against Manafort and Gates “have nothing to do with the White House. They have nothing to do with the president.”
Manafort pleaded not guilty to Mueller’s first round of charges, which were filed in Washington in October. The new case against Manafort and Gates, filed in Virginia, remained mostly under seal on Friday morning. Manafort has separately filed a lawsuit asking a court to declare Mueller’s appointment illegal and to undo work his office has undertaken.