Former Trump Campaign Official Gates Strikes Plea Deal With Mueller

Rick Gates arrives at federal court in Washington, Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(CN) – A former Trump campaign official indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in connection to his probe of Russia meddling in the 2016 election pleaded guilty Friday to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of making a false statement to the FBI agents.

Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign aide, entered his plea in federal court in Washington, D.C. Friday afternoon.

In a court filing unsealed Friday, Mueller charged Gates with conspiracy to the hide millions of dollars that both he and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort allegedly accrued in connection to their lobbying for the Ukrainian government.

In a statement released after Gates entered his plea, Manafort, said “Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pled today, I continue to maintain my innocence.

“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence,” he said. “For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me.”

Almost as if in response to the bravado of that statement, a new indictment was filed against Manafort Friday afternoon. In it Mueller’s team asserts that Manafort funded a “secretly retained [group] of former senior European politicians to take positions favorable to Ukraine, including lobbying in the U.S.”

The group of politicians, known as the Hapsburg group, were paid roughly two million euros to do pose as independent analysts, the indictment says, when in reality they were compensated for the lobbying.

Word of the Gates deal comes a day after Mueller ratcheted up pressure on him and Manafort by indicting them on dozens of new charges of money laundering and bank fraud.

Both men were first indicted by Mueller in October and pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

In a letter to friends and family, obtained first by ABC News, Gates said in recent weeks he’s had a “change of heart” regarding his initial plea.

“The reality of how long this legal process will likely take, the cost, and the circus-like atmosphere of an anticipated trial are too much,” Gates said. “I will better serve my family moving forward by exiting this process.”

The consequence of not switching his plea, Gates added, would be “public humiliation.”

According to the filing unsealed Friday, from 2006 through at least 2016, the men allegedly laundered money through various offshore accounts and foreign banks, and actively concealed their work on behalf of the Ukrainian government, its president Viktor Yanukovych, and a series of Ukrainian political parties including the Party of the Regions.

“[When]  the Department of Justice sent inquiries to Manafort and Gates in 2016 about their activities, [they] responded with a series of false and misleading statements,” the filing says.

Manafort allegedly used the laundered money to purchase lavish properties in the U.S., the borrowed millions using the property as collateral. Once that cash was in hand, Mueller says, he failed to report it or pay taxes on the income.

Likewise,  Gates is alleged to have transferred more than $3 million from offshore accounts to buoy his own personal purchases.

The unsealed document then goes on talk about the lobbying efforts Manafort and Gates carried out on behalf of their clients in the Ukraine, including reaching out to  “multiple members of Congress and their staff about Ukraine sanctions, the validity of Ukraine elections and the propriety of Yanukovych’s imprisoning of his presidential rival Yulia Tymoshenko, the country’s president before Yanukovych.”

Using $4 million from one of their offshore accounts, Manafort and Gates also are said to have lobbied for a report on Tymoshenko’s trial, a work commissioned by the Ukrainian government.

Mueller contends that in order to minimize public disclosure of these lobbying efforts the men arranged for a third party, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a Brussels-based think tank under the direction of the Ukrainian government, to act as the go between two D.C. firms controlled by the defendants.

Once media reports began mounting around Manafort’s possible connections with Ukraine, in August 2016, the men sought to distance themselves from them and developed a cover story to hide their activities, the indictment says.

In time, the media reports led to a formal inquiry by the Justice Department.

According to the court filing, when questioned by investigators in November 2016 and again this month, the men made false statements, claiming “efforts [by Manafort’s company DMI] on behalf of the Party of the Regions did not include meetings or outreach within the U.S.”

They insisted they merely served as a “means of introduction” to the D.C. firms and provided the Centre with a list of U.S. consultants for further consideration. They also claimed they did not retain any DMI communications older than 30 days.

“In fact, Manafort and Gates selected [the DC firms], engaged in weekly scheduled calls and frequent emails with [the firms] to provide them directions as to specific lobbying steps that should be taken … received … oral and written reports from the firms on the lobbying work performed, communicated with Yanukovych to brief him on their lobbying efforts … communicated directly with U.S. officials in connection with the work and paid the lobbying firms over $2 million,” the special counsel claims.

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