"Queen for a day": Has Mueller flipped Gates?

Who wants to be Queen for a Day? Maybe Rick Gates, who reportedly has begun to sing in Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe.  CNN reported last night that the co-defendant in the Paul Manafort indictment has negotiated a plea deal, and conducted a “queen for a day” interview with investigators. However, the question may be what Gates would know — and about whom he would know it:

Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, indicating he’s poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case.

Gates has already spoken to Mueller’s team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He’s had what criminal lawyers call a “Queen for a Day” interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors’ team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed. …

Once a plea deal is in place, Gates would become the third known cooperator in Mueller’s sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It would also increase the pressure to cooperate on Gates’ co-defendant Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who has pleaded not guilty to Mueller’s indictment and is preparing for a trial on alleged financial crimes unrelated to the campaign. Gates pleaded not guilty on October 30 alongside Manafort.

“Nobody (who’s charged) goes in to provide incriminating information to the government unless it’s part of plea negotiations,” said a criminal defense attorney who represents a witness in the case. In a Queen for a Day interview, a defendant can typically admit to crimes with little additional consequences, unless he or she lies.

Recall that Gates ended up spending more time with the campaign than Manafort. He came in with his lobbying partner in July 2016 but hung on until moving over to the RNC at some point as a fundraiser. Gates came back to work on fundraising for the inauguration. Overall, his footprint in the Trump/GOP 2016 effort was both longer and broader than Manafort’s. If Mueller’s looking for an insider, Gates makes for a logical candidate, although Gates’ subordinate role raises some reasons for skepticism that he would have been privy to the kind of collusion Mueller’s investigating.

On the other hand, Mueller hasn’t charged either Gates nor Manafort with anything related to the 2016 campaign, at least not so far. The special counsel threw the book at both men last fall after a rather robust raid on Manafort’s house over the summer, but the charges all alleged money laundering and corruption that long preceded the 2016 campaign, and false statements relating to those charges. It’s possible that Mueller wants Gates to flip on Manafort rather than Trump, although it’s also obviously possible he wants to get resources on both. If Gates flips on Manafort, then Mueller might get Manafort to flip on Trump, which is how CNN reports this potential. And that still leaves the question open as to whether Manafort has anything significant to say about collusion with Russia, evidence of which has yet to emerge at all.

And, er, what happens to the “Queen for a Day” if The Royal Presence has nothing of value to share?

One potential reason Mueller might need a flip on Gates now is the lawsuit filed by Manafort against the special counsel. Manafort is challenging Mueller’s jurisdiction over issues outside his mandate from the DoJ, arguing that the special counsel exceeded his authority in charging and prosecuting unrelated crimes. Mueller can fix that by getting Gates to deliver dirt on Manafort related to the campaign, which would give Mueller an opportunity to add collusion-related charges to the indictment. The DoJ, named as a party in the lawsuit, calls it “frivolous,” but federal judges have their own thoughts on what constitutes a frivolous motion.

For instance, the federal judge now overseeing the Michael Flynn plea bargain has suddenly required full disclosure from prosecutors despite Flynn’s guilty plea. It might mean nothing, or it might mean that the judge suspects that the prosecutors might have some explaining to do:

On Dec. 12, after just a few days on the Flynn case, Sullivan, acting on his own, ordered the office of special counsel Robert Mueller “to produce to [Flynn] in a timely manner — including during plea negotiations — any evidence in its possession that is favorable to defendant and material either to defendant’s guilt or punishment.”

Sullivan also ordered Mueller “to produce all discoverable evidence in a readily usable form.” And he declared that “if the government has identified any information which is favorable to the defendant but which the government believes not to be material, the government shall submit such information to the Court for in camera review.” In other words, Sullivan declared that he, not Mueller, would be the judge of what evidence should be produced.

The move was particularly notable because Flynn had already pleaded guilty, and, as part of that guilty plea, agreed to “forgo the right to any further discovery or disclosures of information not already provided at the time of the entry of [Flynn’s] guilty plea.”

“It certainly appears that Sullivan’s order supersedes the plea agreement and imposes on the special counsel the obligation to reveal any and all evidence suggesting that Flynn is innocent of the charge to which he has admitted guilt,” wrote National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor.

As Byron York further reports, it resulted in an unusual arrangement between Flynn’s attorneys and Mueller’s team:

Prosecutors and the defense submitted to Sullivan a proposed order limiting the use of any new evidence produced by the government. The evidence can be used by Flynn’s defense “solely in connection with the defense of this case, and for no other purpose, and in connection with no other proceeding.” The proposed order, awaiting Sullivan’s approval, also set out rules for handling “sensitive” materials.

What “new evidence” would that be? Did prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence prior to pressuring Flynn into a plea bargain? There have been hints of that in reporting lately, with some alleging that FBI investigators initially concluded that Flynn had not deliberately lied to them in their meetings. This seems like a very unusual step for a judge to take in a case where the defendant has already pled guilty. Mueller may need another cooperator, and Gates might be a fallback.

Most people probably won’t know the origin of the “Queen for a Day” phrase, which comes from one of the strangest television shows ever to air … prior to the advent of reality-TV, of course. The point of the show was to find the most miserable woman ever and shower her with gifts. Here’s an episode to refresh memories, complete with “Pomp and Circumstance” and Ex-Lax. Seem appropriate here, too.