After Ex-Trump Staffer’s Guilty Plea, New Charges Tossed

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – A federal judge nixed 22 tax and bank-fraud charges Tuesday against the latest former Trump campaign official to plead guilty as part of the investigation of Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential election.

Rick Gates agreed just this past Friday to plead guilty to lying to the FBI and conspiracy to defraud the United States, but Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team had brought the superseding charges against him and co-defendant Paul Manafort just one day earlier in Virginia’s Eastern District.

Longtime business associates, Gates and Manafort were arrested last year as part of a 12-count indictment that was unsealed on Oct. 30.

As part of his plea Friday, 45-year-old Gates admitted that he lied to the FBI during a Feb. 1, 2018, proffer session when agents asked him about Manafort’s meeting on March 19, 2013, with a lobbyist and a member of Congress.

Though Gates told FBI agents that Manafort told him no discussions of Ukraine took place at that meeting, Gates acknowledged last week that had in fact worked with Manafort on a report for Ukrainian leadership memorializing the pertinent Ukraine discussions from the meeting.

On the same day Gates lied to the FBI, three of his attorneys sought permission to withdraw from the case. The attorneys have not publicly said why they wanted off the case – citing only irreconcilable differences and stating the reasons could be prejudicial or embarrassing to Gates.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson terminated their involvement in the case on Thursday.

Although none of the charges are related to Russian interference in the election or possible coordination with the Russian effort, Gates was a key figure in the Trump campaign. After Manafort stepped down as Trump’s campaign manager in August 2016, spurred by increased scrutiny over Manafort’s lobbying work for pro-Russian Ukrainian political parties, Gates stayed on with the campaign and helped with the transition.

The two counts to which Gates has pleaded guilty carry a possible prison sentence of up to six years, but Special Counsel’s Mueller’s office has the power to request a shorter sentence.

The remaining charges against Gates, are to be dismissed at the time of sentencing, according to the plea agreement.

After Mueller’s team moved to dismiss the new charges against Gates on  Tuesday, an unsigned proposed order granting the motion appeared on the docket. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III is overseeing the case.

Mueller’s team meanwhile slapped 68-year-old Manafort with five additional charges on Friday, including conspiracy, making false statements, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, and conspiracy to launder money.

The government is seeking forfeiture of any of Manafort’s property tied to the charges.

The charges levied Thursday against Gates and Manafort involve tax fraud, failing to file reports on foreign bank and financial accounts, and bank-fraud conspiracy.

Prosecutors said Gates and Manafort schemed to conceal money they made doing lobbying work for pro-Russia Ukrainian political parties supportive of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who now lives in exile in Russia.

According to the indictment, the pair disguised their income as loans and hid it in foreign bank accounts. More than $75 million flowed through offshore accounts, with Gates helping Manafort launder more than $30 million.

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