The New York Times reports:
A former top adviser to Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign pleaded guilty on Friday to fraud and lying to investigators in the special counsel inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and will cooperate with the investigation.
The adviser, Rick Gates, is a longtime political consultant who once served as Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign chairman. The plea deal could be a significant development in the investigation — a sign that Mr. Gates plans to offer incriminating information against his longtime associate and the former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, or other members of the Trump campaign in exchange for a lighter punishment. He faces up to nearly six years in prison.
The deal came as the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has been raising pressure on Mr. Gates and Mr. Manafort with dozens of new charges of money laundering and bank fraud that were unsealed on Thursday in Alexandria, Va. Mr. Mueller first indicted both men in October, and both pleaded not guilty.
NBC News reports:
In a statement of offense attached to the plea agreement, he admits he conspired with Manafort “in a variety of criminal schemes,” including moving millions from offshore accounts without paying taxes on the money, which was disguised as loans.
He also admits he helped Manafort avoid registering as a lobbyist for Ukrainian political figures and misleading two other firms, the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs, on whether they should register.
In addition, Gates admits that even while he was negotiating a deal with Mueller, he lied about a March 19, 2013, meeting attended by Manafort, a lobbyist, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. He told investigators that Ukraine had not been discussed when he knew it was.
Why it matters: Mueller now has the cooperation of a key player who worked closely with the Trump campaign, and stayed on the team even after Manafort resigned as campaign manager. Manafort released a statement today maintaining his innocence, but the pressure is at an all-time high now that his former partner is ready to talk.
What’s next: Federal guidelines suggest Gates will face a sentence of 57 to 71 months, but these are only advisory and are subject to discretion, per Bloomberg. Gates’ status hearing is for May 14, indicating the Mueller probe has no intention of winding down before then.