WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s deputy Rick Gates copped a plea with special counsel Robert Mueller in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia today, prompting Manafort to complain that his longtime business partner should have fought the charges.
The plea agreement came a day after Manafort and Gates were indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on 32 counts: 16 counts related to false income tax returns, seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, five counts of bank fraud conspiracy, and four counts of bank fraud.
The October indictments in D.C. against Manafort and Gates include conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts. It charges that Manafort and Gates laundered money to hide payments from Kremlin-linked Ukraine clients from “approximately 2006 thorough at least 2016.”
Gates, a resident of Richmond, Va., stayed at the Trump campaign and worked on the inaugural committee after Manafort left in August 2016. He joined America First Policies when the nonprofit formed in January 2017 to promote Trump’s agenda, and left after just a few months.
Today, Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and to lying to investigators on Feb. 1 about a 2013 meeting.
“Manafort engaged in a variety of criminal schemes, and Gates as part of his work for Manafort, DMP, and DMI knowingly and intentionally conspired with Manafort to assist him in the criminal schemes,” says the statement of offense filed in court today. Gates also “understood that it was illegal to engage in certain activities in the United States as an agent of a foreign principal without registering with the United States Government.”
The March 19, 2013, meeting involved Manafort and Gates’ lobbying work for Kremlin-allied Ukrainian political figures and was attended by another lobbyist — former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) — along openly pro-Russia Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). While sitting down with Mueller’s team three weeks ago to negotiate a plea deal, Gates falsely told the prosecutors that Ukraine was not discussed at the meeting. Gates’ legal team at the time stopped representing him around the same time he told the lie.
The plea agreement requires Gates to cooperate with Mueller’s team on “all matters,” including agreeing to “participate in undercover activities” as required. Gates could go from facing potentially many years in prison if convicted to maybe getting as little as probation.
A couple of hours after Gates’ guilty plea, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment in the D.C. court against Manafort containing five counts: conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, and false statements.
The new indictment says Manafort paid a group of former politicians led by an unnamed former European chancellor — the “Hapsburg Group” — two million laundered euros from offshore accounts in 2012-13 to lobby Congress on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president ousted in 2014 now living in exile in Russia.
Manafort released a statement saying he continues to maintain his innocence.
“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence,” Manafort 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.”
President Trump did not answer questions about the Gates plea as he and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met with reporters today at the White House.