Slow and steady wins the race. Special Counsel Robert Mueller should have that slogan tattooed on his bicep since it’s been such a successful strategy for him as he tackles the intricacies of the twin investigations into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election and the Trump campaign’s collusion and obstruction of justice.
After Friday’s big announcement of the indictment of 13 Russian nationals for their role in a massive propaganda campaign successfully designed to help Trump win the election, coupled with the news that new evidence has emerged about Paul Manafort’s fraudulent application for a $9.5 million mortgage, news leaked today that Manafort’s co-indicted conspirator Rick Gates will be pleading guilty to the fraud-related charges against him and turning state’s witness to testify against his former boss, according to an article in The Los Angeles Times today..
Gates, who like Trump’s former campaign manager Manafort, was indicted in October on 12 counts, including conspiracy against the US, money laundering, making false statements, and failing to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, originally pleaded not guilty to all charges.
“Rick Gates is going to change his plea to guilty,” said a person with direct knowledge of the new developments, adding that the revised plea will be presented in federal court in Washington “within the next few days.”
The LA Times cited sources who requested anonymity in recounting their news because of a gag order imposed on the case by the presiding judge. Neither Gates’ defense attorney nor the Special Counsel’s office replied to the Times’ request for comments, but the paper’s sources say that negotiations have been ongoing during past few weeks for a “substantial reduction in his sentence” in exchange for Gates’ full cooperation in the investigation.
The sources described the final discussions centering on how much illegally gained money and other assets the government will force him to return as part of his plea deal. This indicates that Gates is beginning to feel the financial pressures inherent in mounting an effective legal defense against the evidence that he and Manafort were paid as unregistered foreign agents by the Ukrainian government and “laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts” and failed to pay taxes on it as the indictments charge.
If the news of Gates’ turning state’s witness is true, Paul Manafort is surely beginning to worry. With a fairly solid case against him, Manafort faces the possibility of a long prison sentence if he doesn’t emulate Gates and plead guilty in exchange for cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. On the other hand, he could assume that his old pal Donald Trump will exercise his presidential pardoning powers to come to his rescue if he keeps his mouth shut and says nothing that will implicate his old boss and his family.
Either way, Manafort’s position looks decidedly difficult in the short term as he becomes the only American that Mueller has indicted who hasn’t copped a guilty plea. With the additional pressure that having his former partner potentially testifying against him, it will be interesting to see if Manafort continues to maintain his innocence. If he does decide to follow Gates and become a cooperating witness in the investigation, then expect to see Trump anxiously tweeting away, or even more frighteningly, taking more drastic distractionary action to save his own skin.