Former Trump Campaign Aide Pleads Guilty in Special Counsel’s Russia Probe

Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates pleaded guilty Friday in a case being prosecuted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Gates pleaded guilty to conspiring against the United States and making false statements to the special counsel’s office and FBI.

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He is the fifth associate of President Donald Trump to plead guilty in Mueller’s sprawling investigation, which began as an inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Gates’ decision follows a day after Mueller indicted the political consultant and his former business partner, Paul Manafort, with 32 counts of bank fraud and money laundering related to their work for a former Ukrainian politician.

Manafort was Trump’s campaign chairman for three months in 2016, and gates was his deputy.

Mueller also indicted the pair in October on charges related to money laundering, bank fraud, and making false statements regarding their Ukraine work.

None of the charges appear to involve activities by Manafort and Gates on the Trump campaign.

According to the plea deal, Gates acknowledged that he lied to the special counsel’s office and the FBI during an interview earlier this month about a March 19, 2013, meeting involving Manafort, an unnamed lobbyist, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.

Gates admitted to falsely claiming that Manafort told him that there were no discussions about Ukraine during the 2013 meeting. He acknowledged that he helped Manafort prepare a report about Ukraine that was discussed in the meeting.

Gates had appeared to be uncertain about whether to plead guilty. He had been negotiating a plea deal with Mueller’s team, CNN reported, but a source close to Gates told The Daily Caller News Foundation last week that he planned to fight the charges and had no intention of pleading guilty.

There were several conflicting reports this week, with The Daily Beast reporting Thursday that Gates was ending negotiations with Mueller’s team.

Gates’ family and friends reportedly were urging him not to cooperate with Mueller. He sent a letter Friday saying he had decided to cooperate because of legal costs and “the circus-like atmosphere” of the case.

“The reality of how long this legal process will likely take, the cost, and the circus-like atmosphere of an anticipated trial are too much. I will better serve my family moving forward by exiting this process,” Gates said in the letter to friends and family published by ABC News on Friday.

Manafort issued a statement after Gates’ guilty plea in which he maintained his own innocence.

“Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pled today, I continue to maintain my innocence,” Manafort said, adding:

I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me.

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