WASHINGTON — Former campaign aide Rick Gates has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and making a false statement, becoming the third associate of President Donald Trump to make a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.
Gates, who was indicted with former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort in October on conspiracy and other charges related to their lobbying work in Ukraine, arrived at federal court in Washington Friday afternoon for a 2 p.m. plea hearing.
Source: Fmr. Trump campaign aide Rick Gates to plead guilty
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A criminal information filed ahead of the plea hearing says that between 2006 and 2007, gates and others “conspired to defraud the United States by impeding impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of a government agency, namely the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury.”
In addition, it says he lied about a March 19, 2013, meeting attended by Manafort, an unidentified lobbyist, and a member of Congress, and that he falsely denied that Ukraine was discussed and that he was preparing a report for Ukraine’s leadership.
The development comes a day after Mueller filed a new 32-count indictment against Gates and Manafort, hitting them with new charges of tax and bank fraud, and a day after Gates changed lawyers. It also follows a guilty plea by a Russia-linked lawyer who admitted he lied to investigators about his contacts with Gates.
Both pleaded not guilty, but in recent weeks there were signs that Gates had flipped and agreed to provide evidence to the investigation. His original attorneys asked to quit, citing “irreconcilable differences.”
Gates will follow Mike Flynn, Trump’s short-tenured national security adviser, and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in pleading guilty to charges filed by Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump operation.
Trump has called the investigation a “witch hunt” and insists there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians.
I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said “it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.” The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 18, 2018
The charges against Gates and Manafort are not related to campaign work. Instead, the indictment says, they laundered tens of millions of dollars in lobbying payments through a web of U.S. companies and banks.
Rick Gates departs Federal District Court on Feb. 14, 2018, in Washington. Alex Brandon / AP file
Mueller, meanwhile, ratcheted up the pressure on Manafort, revealing in a filing last week that his team has amassed evidence of more alleged crimes, including doctored financial documents used to obtain a $9 million mortgage.
The Russia probe, which Mueller took over in May, began yielding fruit in October when Papadopoulos secretly pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his contacts with Kremlin-connected Russians — communications that Manafort was allegedly aware of.
Manafort and Gates were indicted soon after. And then in December, Flynn pleaded guilty to a charge of making false statements to the FBI about his communications with Russia after the election but before the inauguration, allegedly made at the urging of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Flynn’s former deputy, K.T. McFarland.
Donald Trump with then-campaign manager Paul Manafort at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call,Inc. file
Then, last week, Mueller unveiled the first charges directly tied to Russian meddling in the election: indictments against 13 Russian nationals accused of conducting “information warfare” through social media accounts that drummed up support for Trump and criticized Hillary Clinton.
Earlier this week, Alex van der Zwaan, a former attorney for the blue-chip firm Skadden Arps who is the son-in-law of a Russian oligarch, pleaded guilty to lying to Mueller’s team about his contacts with Gates.
In recent weeks, Mueller has also interviewed key figures, including former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and fired FBI Director James Comey.
It’s still not clear if Trump will submit to questioning by Mueller.
Andrea Mitchell reported from Washington, and Tracy Connor and Tom Winter from New York.