Rick Gates, who flipped on Trump in Russia probe, seeks redemption

By Daniel Lippman
·5 min read

As attempted comebacks go, it’s an audacious gambit.

Rick Gates, the former Trump aide who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in the Robert Mueller probe — and then helped put other Trump associates in jail — hasn’t just launched a book tour aimed at clearing his name. He’s also started a new strategic consulting firm for companies looking to navigate the federal government.

Gates has already helped one company, a medical services firm, understand how the government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency works and counseled its leaders on how they should pursue a contact tracing contract they were eyeing, he said in an interview.

The new consulting outfit, Tungsten LLC, is part of a broader push by Gates to rehabilitate his public image and get back to work after becoming embroiled in the Trump campaign’s post-2016 legal woes. Gates, a longtime business partner of former campaign chief Paul Manafort, turned on his former boss, which bought him a lighter sentence — but also the stigma of being a felon.

One question he helped the unnamed company understand was: “If you were us, how would you push your opportunity or your proposal through [the federal government]?” Gates said. He said he doesn’t know if the company actually ended up pursuing the contract.

“There are a lot of private sector companies that don’t understand how government works, so a lot of it was government 101, believe it or not,” he said.

Gates said he also helped the company think more broadly about how to compete for business in the U.S. government sector and did some competitive landscape research on its behalf. Gates also worked with the company, which he declined to name, to understand the marketplace for buying personal protective equipment in bulk.

“There were questions about, ‘If we sourced it from China, is that going to be a problem? Should we find manufacturers in the U.S.?’” Gates said.

Gates said he also is helping a technology firm, but declined to provide any more details. He said he started working with both companies shortly after his sentencing last December, but his work with the second firm has been “kind of off-and-on.”

In February 2018, Gates pleaded guilty to conspiring with Manafort to conceal millions of dollars that flowed through secret offshore bank accounts, to tax fraud and for failing to register the lobbying they did for Ukraininan interests. He also admitted to a separate count of lying to investigators.

But to minimize prison time, Gates sat with federal and state prosecutors for almost 1,000 hours both before and after he agreed to become a witness against Trump and his allies. Prosecutors and judges praised Gates’ cooperation, which was crucial to convicting Manafort, who is serving a 7-and-a-half-year sentence.

Two weeks ago, Gates published a pro-Trump memoir called “Wicked Game: An Insider’s Story on How Trump Won, Mueller Failed, and America Lost” that tries to rewrite the history of the Mueller probe. To promote the book, he’s granted interviews to print outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post and Bloomberg, sat down for a lengthy podcast grilling with Russiagate scribe Michael Isikoff, and appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Newsmax and PBS. Gates even endured public humiliation on CBS’ animated satirical “Tooning Out The News” series, where he urged the president to pardon him and other figures charged by Mueller or his spinoff investigations.

Gates said he strongly supports Trump’s reelection because his policy views align with the president’s agenda and continues to believe that “the idea of a political outsider capturing the presidency was refreshing and good for the country.” He also thinks that Trump has a good chance to win next Tuesday.

“Based on the polling and the unbelievable number of similar characteristics to 2016, this election is still way too close to call and Trump can absolutely win it,” he said. “If he focuses on the economy, he’s gonna win it.”

Now, having served his 45 days of weekend prison but still in the middle of his 3-year probation sentence, Gates says he’s working with a few close friends and advisers to put together a group to work with young people to increase political tolerance for different ideological views.

It’s “more of a long term plan to work with students, school kids, college kids, on being able to find ways to tolerate politics, political discussions in a much more expansive framework where we’re listening to each other and learning as opposed to just kind of dictating and letting emotions take over,” he said.

Gates is also looking to volunteer with criminal justice reform groups, after what he describes as “the horrendous experience” he saw firsthand in terms of the pressure tactics prosecutors used on him and other witnesses.

As for Tungsten LLC — the name is a reference to the strong metal — Gates hasn’t marketed the company yet. He said that he’s using his network of contacts he’s developed over his career, some in business, and some in politics. Most of his political contacts inside the government, he said, have already left the Trump administration.

Asked which specific companies have hired him, Gates said with a laugh: “As you can imagine, I have been very clear with my clients that I will not name any of them, because I don’t want to give them undue attention.”

He also declined to say how much the two companies are paying him but said, “It’s not a ton of money. We’re not talking a D.C. major corporation lobbyist or contract here.”

Gates clarified that he has not done any lobbying for either company or had any type of contact with anybody inside the federal government or the White House on behalf of his two clients.

But he didn’t close the door completely on once again registering as an official lobbyist one day, calling it a “great question” when asked if he would ever become a lobbyist again.

“I don’t know that I would ever want to get back into lobbying for a variety of reasons you can imagine, but if there’s opportunities that come about, yeah I would and I would absolutely register if I needed to,” he said.