Top Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in special counsel investigation

Gates admitted to fraud and lying to investigators; Manafort says he will continue to defend his innocence

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published February 23, 2018 6:38PM (EST)

Rick Gates (AP/Alex Brandon)
Rick Gates (AP/Alex Brandon)

Another day, another shocker in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe of Trump officials: Rick Gates, a former top adviser to Donald Trump, has pleaded guilty to fraud and lying to investigators, the New York Times reports.

Gates pleaded guilty in front of a judge in Washington on Friday and acknowledged that he participated in financial wrongdoings with Paul Manafort. He also admitted to lying to the special counsel about a 2013 meeting Manafort had with a member of Congress and a lobbyist. Currently, Gates faces up to six years in prison.

Gates is the third person known to be cooperating with Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Gen. Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos have also pleaded guilty and both agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

It’s unclear how cooperative Gates will be throughout the next steps of the process, and what insights he has to offer, but the New York Times speculates the plea deal is “a sign that Mr. Gates plans to offer incriminating information against his longtime associate and the former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, or other members of the Trump campaign in exchange for a lighter punishment.”

Gates may also have insights into Trump’s campaign following the election, since Gates served as a consultant on the transition team.

Murmurs that Gates was close to reaching a plea deal began to spread last week. ABC news obtained a letter that Gates had allegedly sent to friends and family alerting them he was planning on pleading guilty.

“Despite my initial desire to vigorously defend myself, I have had a change of heart. 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. I will better serve my family moving forward by exiting this process,” he wrote in the letter.

The next logical step would be for Manafort to plead guilty, but according to a statement via the New York Times, Manafort appears to be determined to hold onto to his innocence.

“Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pleaded today, I continue to maintain my innocence. 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,” Manafort said in the statement.

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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George Papadopoulos Paul Manafort Rick Gates Russia Probe Special Counsel Robert Mueller