Donald Trump’s former campaign manager is under increasing pressure to cooperate with criminal prosecutors investigating the campaign’s alleged collusion with the Kremlin following reports that his chief lieutenant will testify against him.
Several US media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and CNN, reported that Rick Gates, a former campaign aide and lobbyist, has struck a deal with Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and will testify against Paul Manafort, his longtime business associate, in exchange for leniency.
Gates has appeared to be a relatively minor figure in the Trump/Russia probe. But if he were to plead guilty to criminal charges connected to his earlier work as a lobbyist for a pro-Kremlin party in Ukraine, including allegations of money laundering, it would set off a chain of events that could bring Mueller’s investigation deep into the White House.
Trump has denied that his campaign ever colluded with the Kremlin. This weekend, in the wake of a new indictment by prosecutors on Friday against 13 Russians who allegedly engaged in a sophisticated plot to support Trump’s campaign on social media and disparage his rival, Hillary Clinton, Trump emphasised that there was no evidence that the alleged Kremlin plot had swayed the results of the election.
The reports of Gates’ possible cooperation come after prosecutors stated in court on Friday that they had unearthed additional evidence of criminal activity by Manafort.
Experts say any deal with Gates would only be struck if investigators were confident he had valuable testimony to offer on a more senior figure in their ongoing inquiry.
The two developments – the alleged additional evidence of wrongdoing and Gates’s possible testimony – could give Mueller and his team additional ammunition to force Manafort to cooperate in their inquiry or face a potentially tough prison sentence if he is found guilty of the crimes he has been charged with.
If Manafort were to cooperate in the probe it could potentially offer Mueller’s team a wealth of new information about the inner workings of the Trump campaign and any possible interactions with Russian officials.
The news raises questions about what Gates might have to offer to prosecutors.
Both Manafort and Gates were indicted last October for alleged crimes that pre-date their work for the campaign and did not involve any allegations of wrongdoing involving the Trump campaign or Russia. Both pleaded not guilty to the allegations, including money laundering and failing to register as lobbyists for foreign powers.
But legal experts have speculated that Mueller, the former FBI chief who is leading the Trump/Russia probe, has continued to investigate both men.
The Guardian reported in December that the FBI asked officials in Cyprus for financial information about FBME, a defunct bank used by wealthy Russians that has been accused of serving as a money launderer by US financial regulators. FBME has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Manafort served relatively briefly as Trump’s campaign manager. He resigned from the campaign in August 2016 following media reports that raised questions about his former work as a lobbyist for pro-Kremlin forces. On the day he resigned, Manafort opened a shell company that received $13m in loans from two businesses with ties to Trump, according to media reports.
Manafort also had business ties to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
On Friday, new court documents filed by prosecutors alleged that bail documents submitted by Manafort had revealed new alleged criminal conduct involving bank fraud. Prosecutors said that Manafort had obtained a mortgage on a property using fake profit and loss statements, which overstated his income by millions of dollars.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Gates’s revised plea is expected to be presented in court in Washington within the next few days. Citing unnamed individuals with information about the case, the paper reports that Gates has said he would testify against Manafort and would receive a “substantial reduction in his sentence”. While the sentence will not be spelled out in court documents, he is expected to serve about 18 months in prison under the terms of any cooperation deal, according to the Los Angeles Times report.
Two other former campaign officials, Michael Flynn and George Papadopolous, are already cooperating in the criminal investigation after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI.