Rick Gates, Former Trump Campaign Official, Expected To Plead Guilty

Feb 23, 2018
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We have an update now on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Former Trump campaign official Rick Gates is expected to plead guilty and begin cooperating with the special counsel. NPR's Ryan Lucas is in the studio with us to talk about this development. So, Ryan, NPR has been reporting for a while that Rick Gates could be in the process of securing some kind of plea deal. So now it looks like that is indeed going to happen. What more can you tell us about this development?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, as you said, this has been a process that has been going on for several weeks now. But our colleague Carrie Johnson has now confirmed with a source familiar with the case that Gates is expected to change his plea to guilty, and that means that he will begin cooperating with Mueller's team. This could happen as early as today.

It's not clear at this point which charges specifically he will plead guilty to, and there are a lot of them out there. Remember, Gates and his business partner, Paul Manafort - Manafort was Trump's campaign chairman - they face more than 40 charges in all, including money laundering, bank fraud. They were hit with 32 new charges last night. So there really is a lot out there.

MARTIN: A lot of pressure on him, a lot of charges. So remind us again who exactly Rick Gates is and how he fits into the larger kind of constellation here.

LUCAS: Right. So Gates was Manafort's right-hand man. They did a lot of political consulting work in Ukraine back in the mid-2000s for about a decade. That work was for a pro-Russian Ukrainian party. According to court papers, they were paid very handsomely for that work, millions of dollars in fact. What they did with that money is basically what has landed them in hot water.

Now, Gates and Manafort joined the Trump campaign in the late spring of 2016. Manafort was dropped in the late summer after questions arose about the work that they were doing in Ukraine. Gates, however, stayed on. He later helped out with the inauguration. Now, both men's legal troubles became very public in October, when they first were indicted.

MARTIN: So just to be clear, do either of these men - Manafort or Gates - face any charges that are directly related to the central issue here of the special counsel, any kind of possible collusion with Russia during the campaign?

LUCAS: No. And Manafort's attorneys have said all along that not only is he innocent of these charges, but the investigation - well, the way that these charges have been laid out, that the investigation doesn't have anything on this alleged question of coordination with Russia. But, of course, Mueller's investigation has the mandate to look into things that are directly related to Russia. It's just stuff that comes up during the course of the investigation.

MARTIN: If another question arises, they have the mandate to pursue that wherever it goes.

LUCAS: Right.

MARTIN: All right. So what does this mean really? Now that Gates is going to plead guilty, so we believe, so it's been reported, what does that mean for Paul Manafort?

LUCAS: Well, Manafort is still fighting his case. And just last night, a spokesman for him said that Manafort is innocent and he's confident that he will be acquitted. But Gates changing his plea really does increase the pressure on Manafort. If Gates is pleading guilty and is going to provide incriminating information about Manafort, and we would expect that he would have, as his business partner, a fair amount of information there, that's trouble for Paul Manafort.

Now, there's also the question of what else Gates knows. What does he know from his time in the Trump campaign? And that would go to the question of possible coordination. Both Gates and Manafort were around for the heart of the campaign, the summer of 2016. There was a lot going on then, including, of course, that infamous meeting in Trump Tower when a Russian lawyer offered dirt on Hillary Clinton. So prosecutors are going to want to talk to Gates about any sort of campaign-related information he may have. And that's stuff that we're waiting to hear as to what it is he has to say there.

MARTIN: All right, to be continued. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.