DOJ: Trump campaign aide-turned star Mueller witness deserves probation

By Darren Samuelsohn

Rick Gates should be rewarded with probation after serving as a critical high-profile government witness whose testimony helped net convictions against two of President Donald Trump’s campaign aides, the Justice Department and an attorney for the former Trump deputy campaign chairman said in a pair of new court filings.

Gates — who pleaded guilty in February 2018 to financial fraud and lying to investigators — quickly became a fountain of information for Robert Mueller’s investigators, eventually testifying against both former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, Trump’s long-time political whisperer.

The 47-year-old GOP operative spent more than 500 hours with federal and state prosecutors, both before and after he officially flipped on Trump and his allies. He also responded to three congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony.

Gates’ voice dominates the final Mueller report, as he recounts details about how Trump and his 2016 campaign coordinated and planned for the release of stolen Democratic emails at critical moments of the White House race.

In a filing Monday, Gates’ attorney pleaded with U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson to give his client probation and impose no fines when she sentences him Dec. 17.

“We believe that the parties are in agreement that Mr. Gates has fulfilled every obligation he agreed to (and then some) and that he has devoted enormous energy and commitment to this task while telling the truth and maintaining his composure,” wrote Gates’ attorney, Tom Green.

Federal prosecutors — who inherited the Gates case from Mueller — said in a filing Tuesday that they wouldn’t oppose the request for probation.

The former Trump deputy had “provided the government with extraordinary assistance,” wrote Molly Gaston, an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington D.C. That included 50 meetings with investigators, during which Gates provided “truthful information” to Mueller and several other DOJ offices, as well as a vow to testify in any ongoing cases.

"Gates’ cooperation has been steadfast despite the fact that the government has asked for his assistance in high-profile matters, against powerful individuals, in the midst of a particularly turbulent environment," Gaston added.

Without elaborating, Gaston also said Gates had "received pressure not to cooperate with the government, including assurances of monetary assistance."

Gates has already helped the government at several high-profile moments.

In August 2018, he incriminated Manafort from the witness stand in several crimes, including multimillion-dollar tax evasion, bank fraud and hiding offshore accounts. A jury later convicted Manafort, who is now serving a 7 1/2-year prison sentence.

Gates also appeared last month as a star witness in the trial against Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks in the 2016 presidential race.

Federal prosecutors leaned on Gates to explain to the jury that the WikiLeaks plotting inside the Trump campaign occured far earlier than had previously been understood, and that the president was also involved in those conversations despite his previous denials.

In his sentencing memo, Gates’ lawyer said his client “is committed to testify in still other trials if requested.”

Gates’ lawyer added that his client “is committed to testify in still other trials if requested.”

“While it is fair to contend that all his cooperation was ‘required’ of him, it is also fair to say that he embraced his obligations as part of a determined effort to redeem himself,” Green wrote.

Monday’s sentencing memos bookend a two-year saga for Gates. He was indicted in October 2017, alongside Manafort, on money laundering, making false statements and other crimes. The move was Mueller’s first official public action.

Gates originally stuck by Manafort, pleading not guilty. The two men even discussed the possibility of a Trump pardon. Ultimately, though, Gates turned on Manafort and Trump in February 2018, providing cooperation with federal prosecutors that resulted in the dismissal of charges against Gates, including the tax and bank fraud crimes.

In a letter to the judge on Gates' behalf, Charlie Black, a former lobbying partner of both Manafort and Stone, described Gates as a “good young man of high ethical character” who “got badly off track.”

“I make no excuse for Rick’s conduct and neither does he," Charlie Black said in his note to Jackson. "It is not enough to say that Paul was a bad influence on him. Rick knew better."

But, Black added, "I am proud of Rick for confessing his wrongdoing and doing the difficult penance of testifying to the truth to the FBI, the prosecutors, in your court, and in the Virginia court. I have never had to do it, but it must be hard to look old friends in the eye and tell facts that will help send them to prison.”

Jackson is scheduled to sentence Gates on Dec. 17. He faces a maximum total sentence of 10 years in prison for the two charges he pleaded guilty to: conspiracy against the U.S. and making false statements to the FBI.