Hmm: Mueller drops 22 charges against Gates; Update: Manafort trial scheduled

Free as a bird? Not quite and not yet, but Rick Gates may be closer to seeing daylight in his legal woes by cooperating with Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation. Mueller’s team filed a motion yesterday to dismiss nearly two dozen charges against the former Trump campaign official and offered no protest to his request to travel to Boston with his family. These moves are predicated on Gates’ continuing cooperation with Mueller’s probe:

The lead Russia investigator asked a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia Tuesday to dismiss a series of criminal charges against Gates, including tax and bank fraud, in exchange for his guilty plea and testimony in the wider probe into the 2016 presidential election.

Gates also secured another win on Tuesday when a different judge granted his request to take his children to Boston next week for their spring break — well outside the 110-mile corridor between his home in Richmond and Washington that he’d previously been confined to for his travels.

The additional leniency comes after Gates agreed to a plea deal last Friday with Mueller that stipulates he must cooperate “in any and all matters” that the special counsel’s office decides are “relevant.”

Fox News reported that the motion drops 22 felony charges from Gates’ indictment, but he’s not entirely off the hook:

Mueller’s team filed a motion to drop 22 tax and bank fraud charges against Gates. The filing was tied to Gates’ agreement last week to plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and lying to the FBI.

That plea pertained to charges filed against him in October in Washington, D.C., for which he still faces up to 71 months in prison.

Under the terms of the deal, the government had agreed it would move to dismiss another set of charges brought against him more recently in a Virginia federal court. Those charges covered everything from alleged tax fraud to bank fraud.

In other words, Mueller is following through on the terms of the plea deal, sooner rather than later. That indicates that Gates has continued to cooperate and that Mueller believes he will in the future. Mueller has the option of refiling these charges if Gates reneges on his end of the plea deal, of course, a point that Gates’ attorneys no doubt have emphasized with him. Gates no doubt will want to cooperate as fully as possible to mitigate his final sentence or perhaps get it suspended altogether.

Does this mean anything else, though? So far, the only indictment Mueller has through Gates is on Paul Manafort, his former business partner. Gates held various positions in the Trump campaign and transition, but so far Mueller hasn’t produced any indictments for other officials than Manafort, whose indictment has nothing to do with the campaign. If Mueller’s already dropping the charges on Gates, does it mean that another indictment might be soon in the offing? Or does it mean that Gates’ testimony is really all about nailing Manafort, whom the Department of Justice could have indicted in 2015?

Mueller may still have some surprises up his sleeve, but at the moment, this looks like Option 2. Mueller appears to be aiming at cleaning up the old FBI operation aimed at Viktor Yanukovych’s kleptocracy in Ukraine. The lack of follow-up under Loretta Lynch on that probe should be raising other questions, too, especially when it became apparent that Manafort was moving back into domestic politics. Did the FBI warn Trump about Manafort and Gates in 2016? That’s a question that might produce some interesting answers — and other questions.

Update: Manafort appeared in court for another arraignment this morning, during which the court set a trial date for September 17th. It’s not unusual for these trials to get postponed as both sides maneuver, but it certainly appears that Mueller’s ready to go to court with what he has. And what he has doesn’t contain anything on the 2016 campaign, at least not at this point.