Rick Gates is set to finalise a plea deal with Mueller and become the third cooperating witness in the Russia probe

  • Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is reportedly close to finalising a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.
  • Gates and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort were charged last October with 12 counts related to money laundering, tax fraud, and conspiracy against the US.
  • A Gates plea deal could spell trouble for Manafort, whom he has been associated with for nearly 30 years.

Rick Gates, a former adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign, is set to finalise a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller, CNN reported on Thursday.

Gates and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort were charged last October with 12 counts related to money laundering, tax fraud, conspiracy against the US, and failure to register as foreign agents. If Gates agrees to a plea deal, he would be the third individual known to be cooperating with Mueller.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos each pleaded guilty last year to one count of making false statements to federal investigators. Both are cooperating witnesses in the Russia probe.

The first sign of a potential plea deal came earlier this month, when it was reported that Gates’ defence lawyers had pulled out of representing him against Mueller.

Gates’ former lawyers filed the request on February 1,according to a court document. The reason for their withdrawal was not immediately known, but the document cited information that is currently the subject of a motion which remains under court seal.

A Gates plea deal, however, could spell trouble for Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him. Indeed, CNN reported that Gates has already had what’s known as a “Queen for a Day” interview with the special counsel, which involves answering any questions from investigators, including those asked about his own case and other possible criminal activity he may have witnessed.

Gates met Manafort nearly three decades ago while he was an intern at Black, Manafort, Stone, Kelly – one of the most powerful lobbying firms in DC. Manafort left the firm the same year Gates joined, but they reunited in 2006 at Manafort’s new consulting company, Davis Manafort.

Two years later, Gates took over the company’s affairs in Eastern Europe, flying to London, Paris, and Moscow, where he met with potential business partners to develop deals and negotiate contracts, according to The New York Times.

Gates’ Russia trips frequently included meetings with associates of Oleg Deripaska, a wealthy Russian-Ukrainian oligarch closely allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Gates joined the Trump campaign in early 2016, when Manafort became the campaign chairman, and worked under him as his deputy. Manafort was forced to step down as Trump’s campaign chairman in August 2016, but Gates stayed and worked on Trump’s transition team. He was ousted from a pro-Trump lobbying group last April amid questions about Russia’s election interference, but he continued to visit the White House as late as June, according to The Daily Beast.

Meanwhile, Manafort’s murky business dealings and ties to Russian interests have long made him a focus of Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Moscow before the 2016 election.

NBC News reported last March that Manafort was associated with at least 15 bank accounts and 10 companies in Cyprus. And The New York Times discovered in August 2016 that Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions designated nearly $US13 million in undisclosed cash payments in Manafort’s name.

The Atlantic also published several emails that appeared to show Manafort using his elevated role in the Trump campaign to resolve a financial dispute with Deripaska. Manafort reportedly wrote an email to his associate, Russian-Ukrainian operative Konstantin Kilimnik, offering to give Deripaska “private briefings” about the campaign to “get whole.” Former intelligence officials said the emails bore all the hallmarks of a quid pro quo operation.

Manafort was also one of three top Trump campaign officials who attended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with two Russian lobbyists who offered the campaign dirt on then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Brennan Weiss contributed reporting.