Special Counsel Robert Mueller is rolling up witnesses to get them to flip and to testify against other witnesses, to get them to flip and to testify against other witnesses, working his way up the ladder to the top in classic prosecutorial fashion.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the Special Counsel has got Rick Gates to flip to testify against Paul Manafort, to bring pressure to bear on Manafort to get him to flip against higher-ups. Former Trump aide Richard Gates to plead guilty; agrees to testify against Manafort, sources say:
A former top aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days — and has made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort, the lawyer-lobbyist who once managed the campaign.
The change of heart by Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Richard Gates, who had pleaded not guilty after being indicted in October on charges similar to Manafort’s, was described in interviews by people familiar with the case.
“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.”
That individual and others who discussed the matter spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a judge’s gag order restricting comments about the case to the news media or public.
Gates’ defense lawyer, Thomas C. Green, did not respond to messages left by phone and email. Peter Carr, a spokesman for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, declined on Saturday to comment.
The imminent change of Gates’ plea follows negotiations over the last several weeks between Green and two of Mueller’s prosecutors – senior assistant special counsels Andrew Weissmann and Greg D. Andres.
According to a person familiar with those talks, Gates, a longtime political consultant, can expect “a substantial reduction in his sentence” if he fully cooperates with the investigation. He said Gates is likely to serve about 18 months in prison.
The delicate terms reached by the opposing lawyers, he said, will not be specified in writing: Gates “understands that the government may move to reduce his sentence if he substantially cooperates, but it won’t be spelled out.”
One of the final discussion points has centered on exactly how much cash or other valuables — derived from Gates’ allegedly illegal activity — that the government will require him to forfeit as part of the guilty plea.
Gates, 45, who is married with four children, does not appear to be well positioned financially to sustain a high-powered legal defense.
“He can’t afford to pay it,” said one lawyer who is involved with the investigation. “If you go to trial on this, that’s $1 million to $1.5 million. Maybe more, if you need experts” to appear as witnesses.
The Oct. 27 indictment showed that prosecutors had amassed substantial documentation to buttress their charges that Manafort and Gates — who were colleagues in political consulting for about a decade — had engaged in a complex series of allegedly illegal transactions rooted in Ukraine. The indictment alleged that both men, who for years were unregistered agents of the Ukrainian government, hid millions of dollars of Ukraine-based payments from U.S. authorities.
According to the indictment, Gates and Manafort “laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts” and took steps to evade related U.S. taxes.
Note: The Special Counsel filed a motion last week which indicates a asuperceding indictment is likely to be filed against Paul Manafort to add charges of bank fraud that were not part of the original indictment against him, according to court documents filed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Paul Manafort Accused Of Bank Fraud In New Mueller Court Documents.
If Manafort maintains his not-guilty plea and fights the charges at a trial, the testimony from Gates could provide Mueller’s team with first-person descriptions of much of the allegedly illegal conduct. Gates’ testimony, said a person familiar with the pending guilty plea, would place a “cherry on top” of the government’s already formidable case against Manafort.
The same individual said he did not believe Gates has information to offer Mueller’s team that would “turn the screws on Trump.”
In addition to the charges pending against Gates and Manafort, Mueller has secured formal guilty pleas from three people. Michael Flynn, the retired lieutenant general who campaigned for Trump and served as the president’s first national security advisor, and George Papadopoulos, who was a foreign policy advisor to his campaign, have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
On Friday, a Justice Department official announced the guilty plea on identity theft charges of a computer specialist from Santa Paula, Calif., Richard Pinedo, whose illicit services — unbeknownst to Pinedo — were used by Russian operatives who tried to influence the 2016 election. The intrigue was spelled out in an indictment, also made public Friday, of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities on charges of interfering with the election by exploiting counterfeit identities of individuals and entities.
Gates joined Trump’s presidential campaign in June 2016 when the candidate hired Manafort as its chairman. At the Republican National Convention the next month, Gates directly handled the campaign’s operations as Manafort’s top aide.
Perhaps the most controversial step taken by Trump’s campaign at the convention concerned how the U.S. should deal with the tense relations between Russia and Ukraine, which repudiated Moscow in a 2014 revolt.
When a delegate proposed that the Republican platform call for “providing lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine’s military in its struggle against Russia-backed armed forces, the Trump campaign defeated the effort. Instead of U.S. weaponry, the convention platform committee accepted the campaign’s substitute language, which offered Ukraine “appropriate assistance.”
In mid-August 2016, Trump fired Manafort following reports of possibly improper payments he had received from a pro-Russia political party aligned with his longtime client Viktor Yanukovych, who was Ukraine’s president from 2010 to 2014.
Gates, however, remained with the Trump campaign through the election, serving as a liaison to the Republican National Committee. He also assisted Trump’s inaugural committee.
It would be reason to celebrate if Paul Manafort and his sometime business partner Roger Stone, two long-time GOP ratfuckers who go way back, both wind up going to prison. That really would be “draining the swamp” just a little bit.
UPDATE 2/20/18: Special counsel Robert Mueller has charged a lawyer with allegedly lying to investigators about covering up his discussions about Ukraine with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates and another person in September 2016, while the Trump campaign operation was in full swing. Mueller charges lawyer with lying about interaction with Rick Gates:
Alex Van Der Zwaan, who is expected to plead guilty Tuesday afternoon, is also accused of lying about the failure to turn over an email communication to the special counsel’s office.
He would become the fourth guilty plea in the Mueller investigation after Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to investigators last year, and an online supplier of fake usernames pleaded guilty to identity fraud last week. Mueller has also indicted 13 Russians for their work to influence the 2016 presidential election through online social media.
Van Der Zwaan’s conversation with the special counsel’s office in which he allegedly lied happened three days after Manafort and Gates were charged with crimes related to their work for Ukrainian politicians and other business. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Late last year, prosecutors questioned Van Der Zwaan on his work with international law firm Skadden Arps. Manafort arranged for the law firm to help the Ukrainian Minister of Justice in 2012 report on the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former Ukrainian prime minister opposed to Manafort’s clients.
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The prosecutors’ criminal charge Tuesday explains how Van Der Zwaan spoke with Gates and an unnamed person in September 2016 about the Ukrainian report and recorded the calls. At the time, Gates was still working with the Trump campaign.
The charging document also says he claimed his last interaction with Gates was an “innocuous text message” in August 2016. He also deleted and then failed to produce emails he exchanged with an unnamed person in September 2016.
Around that time, Manafort was in the spotlight for the work he and Gates did in Ukraine. The New York Times reported that secret documents uncovered in Ukraine listed millions of dollars in illegal payments meant for Manafort, and CNN reported that Manafort’s lobbying firm was under scrutiny by the FBI and Justice Department. Days after these reports in mid-August 2016, Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign.
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Van Der Zwaan has a plea hearing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at US District Court in Washington, DC.
Skadden Arps said in a statement Tuesday that the firm terminated Van Der Zwaan’s employment last year and is cooperating with authorities. Van Der Zwaan was based in London for the firm.
He is the son-in-law of Russian billionaire German Khan, who is one of the most prominent businessmen in Russia. Khan co-founded Alfa Group, a large financial conglomerate, and was recently named in the Treasury Department’s list of Russian oligarchs. CNN reported last year that the FBI examined whether there was a computer server connection during the 2016 presidential campaign between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization, though there isn’t any indication that Van Der Zwaan is connected to that matter.
For the in-depth report on the Alfa Bank server connection to the Trump campaign, see Franklin Foer’s report at Slate, Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia?