Rick Gates to change his plea to guilty on fraud charges

Friday Ed highlighted a story saying Rick Gates was cooperating with Robert Mueller’s investigation and could soon reach a plea deal with the Special Counsel. Today the LA Times reports the plea deal could take effect this week. Gates will change his plea to guilty on fraud charges but will receive a reduced sentence in exchange for his cooperation.

“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.”…

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 that Gates is apt to serve about 18 months in prison…

The Oct. 27 indictment showed that prosecutors had amassed substantial documentation to buttress their charges that both 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 Ukraine government, hid millions of dollars of Ukraine-based payments from U.S. authorities.

The story suggests Gates decided to flip because he couldn’t afford the $1 million or more it would cost to mount a defense to the charges. “He can’t afford to pay it,” a lawyer involved in the case told the LA Times.

As Ed mentioned Friday, all of this involves alleged fraud both Gates and Mansfort were involved in years before their contact with the Trump campaign. Of the two men, Gates actually stuck with the campaign longer. After Manafort was fired, Gates continued and played a role in fundraising for the transition. So you might expect Gates would be more likely to have some inside campaign dirt on Trump. However, the LA Times seems to rule this out saying a source with knowledge of the deal, “did not believe Gates has information to offer Mueller’s team that would ‘turn the screws on Trump.'”

It seems this deal is not aimed at getting dirt on Trump, at least not directly. However, the Gates plea deal will give Mueller an insider witness in his remaining case against Manafort. So the real goal here is probably to apply enough pressure to Manafort that he also agrees to make a deal rather than fight the case in court. If Manafort rolls over he might potentially have something to offer Mueller about Trump, or at least someone higher up the food chain.

The real question is this: Does Mueller have reason to believe Manafort has a song to sing or is he just fishing for whatever he can get? If the latter, then that would suggest he really doesn’t have much to show in the way of collusion after all these months. But we’ll have to wait and see.