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Gates Pleads Guilty,Cooperates in Probe02/24 10:41

   Rick Gates' guilty plea to federal conspiracy and false-statements charges 
turns him from defendant to cooperating witness in the special counsel's probe 
of President Donald Trump's election campaign and Russia's interference.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rick Gates' guilty plea to federal conspiracy and 
false-statements charges turns him from defendant to cooperating witness in the 
special counsel's probe of President Donald Trump's election campaign and 
Russia's interference.

   The plea by Gates, a former senior adviser to President Donald Trump's 
election campaign, revealed he will help special counsel Robert Mueller's 
investigation in "any and all matters" as prosecutors continue to probe the 
2016 campaign, Russian meddling and Gates' longtime business associate, 
one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

   With his cooperation, Gates gives Mueller a witness willing to provide 
information on Manafort's finances and political consulting work in Ukraine --- 
and someone who had access at the highest levels of Trump's 2016 presidential 
campaign.

   Gates, 45, of Richmond, Virginia, made the plea at the federal courthouse in 
Washington. He stood somberly beside his attorney and did not speak during his 
hearing, except to answer routine questions from the judge about whether he 
understood the rights he was giving up.

   He admitted to charges of conspiring against the U.S. government related to 
fraud and unregistered foreign lobbying, as well as lying to federal 
authorities in a recent interview. Under the terms of the plea, he is estimated 
to face between 57 and 71 months behind bars and a possible fine ranging from 
$20,000 to $200,000. Prosecutors may seek a shortened sentence depending on his 
cooperation.

   The plea came a day after a federal grand jury in Virginia returned a 
32-count indictment against Gates and Manafort, accusing them of tax evasion 
and bank fraud. Gates is the fifth defendant to plead guilty in Mueller's 
investigation.

   The indictment in Virginia was the second round of charges against Gates and 
Manafort, who were initially charged last October with unregistered lobbying 
and conspiring to launder millions of dollars they earned while working on 
behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.

   Manafort 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. For reasons yet to surface he 
chose to do otherwise," Manafort said Friday. "This does not alter my 
commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled-up charges contained in 
the indictments against me."

   In court filings over the past few months, Gates gradually began to show the 
strain the case was placing on him and his family.

   He frequently pleaded with U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson for 
leniency in his house arrest to let him attend sporting events with his four 
children. Even on Friday, ahead of his plea, Gates had asked the judge to let 
him take his children to Boston for spring break so they could "learn about 
American history in general, and the Revolutionary War in particular."

   Gates' plea comes on the heels of last week's stunning indictment that laid 
out a broad operation of election meddling by Russia. It began in 2014, and 
employed fake social media accounts and on-the-ground politicking to promote 
Trump's campaign, disparage Hillary Clinton and sow division and discord widely 
among the U.S. electorate.

   The charges to which Gates is pleading guilty don't involve any conduct 
connected to the Trump campaign. They largely relate to a conspiracy of 
unregistered lobbying, money laundering and fraud laid out in his indictments.

   But his plea does newly reveal that Gates spoke with the FBI earlier this 
month and lied during the interview. That same day, his attorneys filed a 
motion to withdraw from representing him for "irreconcilable difference."

   Gates served on the Trump campaign at the same time that Manafort, Donald 
Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner met with a team of Russians in Trump Tower in June 
2016. He was also involved in the campaign when then-Sen. Jeff Sessions held a 
pair of undisclosed meetings with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

   For a few months in 2016, Gates was indispensable to Trump, leading the 
ground effort to help Trump win the Republican nomination and flying from state 
to state to secure Republican delegates in a scramble that lasted all the way 
until the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

   But his power and influence waned once Trump fired Manafort in August 2016 
after The Associated Press disclosed how Gates and Manafort covertly directed a 
Washington lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

   Gates survived his mentor's ouster, serving as the campaign's liaison to the 
Republican National Committee and later working on Trump's inaugural committee. 
Gates also worked briefly with America First Policies and America First Action, 
outside political groups supporting Trump's agenda, but was pushed out of that 
job last year.

   When he was indicted last October, Gates was working for Tom Barrack, a 
close friend of Trump.

   Friday's court papers accuse Gates of lying to federal agents about a March 
19, 2013, meeting involving Manafort, a lobbyist and a member of Congress. 
Gates said the meeting did not include discussion of Ukraine; prosecutors say 
it did.

   The charges don't name the lobbyist or the lawmaker, but filings with the 
Justice Department show Manafort and Vin Weber of Mercury Public Affairs met 
with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., on that date as part of a lobbying 
campaign on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

   Also Friday, Mueller's team unsealed a new indictment solely against 
Manafort that included an allegation that he, with Gates' assistance, secretly 
paid former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine.

   The indictment accuses Manafort of paying the former politicians, informally 
known as the "Hapsburg group," to appear to be "independent" analysts when in 
fact they were paid lobbyists. Some of the covert lobbying took place in the 
U.S.

   The indictment says the group was managed by a former European chancellor. 
Court papers accuse Manafort of using offshore accounts to pay the group more 
than 2 million euros.


(KA)

 
 
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