Rick Gates, a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump, will plead guilty to charges related to fraud and is willing to testify against his longtime business partner, Paul Manafort, The Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday.
Manafort, a longtime Washington lawyer and lobbyist, served as Trump’s campaign manager during part of the 2016 presidential race.
Speculation has grown for weeks that Gates would cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing inquiry into Russian meddling in the presidential election. Gates, who served as Trump’s deputy campaign manager, was indicted in October along with Manafort on charges ranging from money laundering to violations of foreign lobbying laws. He pleaded not guilty to all charges at the time, which carry 10 years or more in potential sentences.
The plea will reportedly change in the coming days, and Gates will likely serve about 18 months in prison in exchange for his cooperation, the Times reported.
“Rick Gates is going to change his plea to guilty,″ a source familiar with the case told the outlet.
The Mueller probe has flipped two other high-profile Trump associates in recent months ― former national security adviser Michael Flynn and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Both men have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russian officials and have been cooperating with the investigation for months.
Gates’ lawyers have been negotiating with Mueller’s legal team for weeks, CNN reported on Saturday. According to the outlet, the special counsel’s team was finalizing a deal after Gates was allowed to give what’s known as a “Queen for a Day” interview, which typically allows a defendant to speak openly about their knowledge of an investigation without facing additional charges.
Gates could play a pivotal role in a trial against Manafort, who has stood by his own not guilty plea following the October indictment. A source told the Times that Gates’ cooperation would be a “cherry on top” of the case.
A White House official told CNN the Trump administration wasn’t worried about Gates’ cooperation with Mueller, as the president believed the flip was arranged to get more information against Manafort.
The Justice Department announced a sweeping set of charges against 13 Russians and three Russian entities on Friday, detailing a sophisticated campaign to sow discord among U.S. voters in the presidential election and in the process help elect Trump.
The president, who in the past has dismissed the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” again insisted after the indictments that his campaign did not collude with Russians during the race for the White House.
His current national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said at a meeting Saturday in Germany that the indictments provided “incontrovertible” evidence that Russia interfered in the election.
But that sparked a Twitter post from Trump, who said McMaster “forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems,” referring to Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Party.