WASHINGTON (CN) — Rick Gates clocked over 500 hours cooperating with federal investigators, but it was not enough to keep him out of jail as a federal judge handed the former Trump deputy campaign manager a 45-day sentence Tuesday.
Among the first defendants charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the last U.S. presidential election, Gates pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to the FBI and financial crimes. He is one of six former Trump associates to be found guilty at trial or plead guilty on charges coming out of Mueller’s two-year probe.
The Justice Department had pushed for a no-jail sentence, telling U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson last week that Gates provided "extraordinary assistance” in multiple investigations, including testifying against his former boss, Paul Manafort, and longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone.
Manafort is now behind bars with a 7 1/2-year federal prison sentence in New York, and Stone will also face sentencing in Jackson’s courtroom come February.
Jackson oversaw a total of six cases rising directly from the Mueller investigation. She said Tuesday that Gates had been completely candid and never embroidered evidence to advance the government's case during the two criminal trials she presided over where Gates testified as the star witness.
“Yes, he joined the government team,” the judge said. “But he didn’t come across as a bought-and-paid-for puppet.”
Taking to the lectern prior to his sentencing, the 47-year-old Gates told the judge in a brief statement that he accepts full responsibility for his actions. Clean shaven, he wore the same dark suit and powder-blue tie that he donned to testify against Stone.
“I greatly regret the mistakes that I have made, and I have worked hard to honor my commitment to make amends,” Gates said. “My family and I appreciate your consideration for leniency, and I hope and pray that you will give that to me.”
Jackson sentenced Gates to three years probation, plus 45 days in jail that he can serve on weekends, a fine of $20,000 and 300 hours of community service.
After sentencing, the judge told Gates to give her condolences to his wife, who is battling cancer. “Mr. Gates, I am 100% certain that the criminal-justice system will not see you again," she said.
Jackson made no effort to hide that she was conflicted over fit punishment for Gates, saying that she had been struggling with it “in anticipation of this sentencing for a long time.”
While the judge said she respects that Gates did not try to argue to her that Manafort coerced him to engage in tax fraud and set up foreign accounts with more than $75 million, Jackson also emphasized that Gates was no small player in the schemes that “kept money offshore and under wraps.”
Gates channeled more than $3 million from the accounts to cover personal expenses, including his children’s school tuition and redecorating his Virginia home. “It does appear that he was attracted to and interested in getting his own piece of the opulent lifestyle that Manafort made possible,” Jackson said.
Jackson detailed letters that she received from family and friends of Gates in advance of today's hearing where they pleaded that Gates got caught up in Washington political drama.
“But I reject that," the judge said, adding that "politics don’t corrupt people; people corrupt politics."
With an even voice, Jackson said defendants stand in her courtroom every day to be sentenced on crimes arising largely from addiction and poverty. She added that under the complex federal sentencing guidelines even defendants from “comfortable and secure backgrounds,” including cooperating witnesses who “take substantial risks,” serve time.
But in the half hour leading up to Jackson passing down Gates’ sentence, she commended him for undergoing deeply personal cross-examinations from the witness stands and as well as for the public scrutiny he and his family have endured during the course of his cooperation.
She said the documents and firsthand accounts that Gates provided federal prosecutors was an important public service.
“Gates’ information alone warranted, indeed demanded, further investigation,” Jackson said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston told Judge Jackson that Manafort had pressured Gates not to cooperate with the government, including offering a defense fund if he decided not to plea. She said Gates met over 50 times with federal investigators during the course of his cooperation.
Gates’ assistance was extraordinary, the federal prosecutor continued, amid the turbulent atmosphere of the Mueller investigation.
“At all times he embraced the full extent of the responsibility of his own actions and embraced telling the truth,” Gaston said.
Andrew Weissmann, a top prosecutor on Mueller’s team and former chief of the Justice Department fraud division, approached Gates with a smile to shake hands just before Tuesday’s hearing got underway, further evidence of the government’s appreciation for the defendant’s long-running cooperation.
Many of the federal prosecutors with whom Gates had worked closely attended the sentencing hearing. They declined to comment when exiting the courthouse.
Gates’ attorney Thomas Green said his client’s efforts are an example of redemption.
“I was witness to his determination and his conduct during this long and often very stressful period during which he never hesitated, he never faltered, he never second-guessed whether he was doing the right thing,” Green said.
Gates made no comments on his sentencing when leaving the Washington federal courthouse. He continues to be bound by his plea agreement to cooperate with the government if further testimony or evidence is required by the Justice Department in future investigations.
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