Ex-Trump campaign aide agrees to guilty plea in Russia probe
WASHINGTON (AP) — A former top adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign is expected to plead guilty in the special counsel’s Russia probe, according to a person familiar with the decision said Friday.
The expected plea from Rick Gates could indicate he is planning to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The person said Gates, a longtime associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is expected to enter the plea as early as Friday. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private conversations, said Gates had informed family and friends in a letter about his decision.
It would mark the fifth publicly known guilty plea in the special counsel probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 campaign.
The Gates plea would come a day after a federal grand jury in Virginia returned a 32-count indictment against him and Manafort accusing them of tax evasion and bank fraud. It was the second round of charges against the two men.
The plea also comes quickly on the heels of a stunning indictment last week that laid out a broad operation of election meddling by Russia, which began in 2014, and employed fake social media accounts and on-the-ground politicking to promote the campaign of Donald Trump, disparage Hillary Clinton and sow division and discord widely among the U.S. electorate.
Gates initially pleaded not guilty and has been facing up to 12.5 years in jail — based on a 12-count indictment handed up in October accusing him and Manafort of acting as unregistered foreign agents and conspiring to launder millions of dollars they earned while working on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.
His guilty plea will almost certainly reduce the prison sentence he could have faced if convicted at trial of all counts.
A sealed charge in the case this week as well as closed-door discussions in recent weeks had brought speculation that a plea deal for Gates or some other development might be near. Gates’ lawyers had filed a motion this month indicating that they had reached “irreconcilable differences” with their client. His new lawyer, veteran Washington white-collar attorney Thomas Green, formally took over Thursday.
Green did not respond to a request for comment Friday. Green, a high-powered defense attorney, won a plea deal for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert after he was charged with concealing nearly $1 million of $1.7 million in secret payments to hide allegations of sexual abuse.